How to Shoot Portraits in the Sun!


How to Shoot Portraits in the Sun!

Here are some great tips & tricks for shooting portraits in the full sun!

Here in Southern California the sun almost always shines!

To get excellent portrait shots in the harsh light of the sun, you can keep the following tricks and tips in mind!



  • The Golden Hour!

Shooting during the Golden Hour can have amazing results. If you can time your shoot to shoot during this last hour before sunset, then go ahead and plan your shoot for this dreamy, golden light. This amazing time light washes the subject with a warm glow & produces some beautiful images. Look at the golden light in this image & the beautiful long soft shadows!







  • Scrims

Scrims are a great tool to produce shade in the full sun where there is no natural shade. In this image the building had a narrow strip of shade, but it was not big enough for the model to get in complete shade. What did I do? Well, mom held up my 86″ Westcott white parabolic umbrella to create the shade I needed for the shot! It made for some pretty amazing soft white highlights! You can achieve this look with a white reflector, white umbrella, a scrim, white chiffon, white shower curtain, or almost any other white see through material. You simple place this diffusion between your subject and the sun to create your own shadow. I love the results! This allows me to get in and get some beautiful shots any time of day – so I am not limited to shooting the hour of sunrise or sunset. When shooting in partial shade, watch out for hot spots or dappled light. If you have ever shot under the trees trying to get shade you know exactly what I am talking about. Those tiny little dappled hot spots or slivers that hit the subject in the most annoying places. Now that you know how to remedy those hot spots, go ahead and scrim it to create a nice little soft light. If you can add a little reflected light into the subjects eyes, you now have the makings for a beautiful portrait. In this image the ground was a off white dirt/gravel mix so you can see the horizontal catch light bouncing back into her eyes.







  • Full shade

Shooting in full shade is definitely an option if available for outdoor shots in the sun with great results. I always look for spots with covered shade that additionally can reflect some highlights into the subjects eyes. Watch out for color cast. The warmth of the brick worked well in this image. You can use a reflector, the sidewalk, or add a speed light or strobe when shooting in full shade to bring out that beautiful catch light in your subjects eyes. In this image, no reflector was used but the light of the full sun/sky was captured coming in between some pillars, from the perfect angle to create a natural catch light.






In this image the subject was in the full shade of a building. The ground was concrete and reflected back up into her face creating the perfect fill light and beautiful catch light in her eyes. No additional reflector was needed. This shot was captured around 3:00 p.m. in the harsh light of the California Desert in Palm Springs.








  • Clouds

Clouds, whether they are floating by or it is overcast act like a natural scrim & create a beautiful giant soft box for shooting! I love to shoot in these conditions. In the following image shot at midday, the sky was gently overcast & it had begun to mist a soft rain. The results were beautiful! You can see the direction of the sun was coming from above, but instead of the typical shadowy racoon eyes, her eyes were beautifully lit and the reflected light from the lake bounced back into her face softening the already diffused shadows and adding some catch light.






  • Spot exposure meter

One trick I use to expose my subject perfectly while shooting in full shade is to use my onboard spot exposure meter selection in my camera. I always check my histogram to make sure I am capturing the information I want. This is much better than using the jpg version image that pops up on my viewfinder. This one trick, (ok 2 tricks), will elevate your photography to new heights. In the following image the subject is on a path in the woods. I used spot exposure to get the perfect exposure on her face. Light from outside the wooded area behind me was spilling directly in at a slight angle to fill her face with a nice soft fill light.  If you look closely at the catch light in her eyes, not only can you see the horizon behind me creating her catch lights, but you can see the silhouette of me in this catch light.





  • Hoodman

For around a hundred dollars, you can purchase a Hoodman Hood Loupe.  This handy gadget gets placed over your LCD screen allowing you to see your screen in full sun. This is a great tool to have if you shoot outdoors frequently. You can purchase them at most all stores that sell professional camera gear. I linked you to B&H above. The Hoodman blocks out the extra light & comes with a diopter so you can set it for your vision needs. This time saving piece of gear allows me to check my settings & results in full sun without running over to the shade after each shot.



  • Check your histogram

When shooting in less than optimal situations, such as full sun or night time – learn to use your histogram to check to see if you are capturing the proper information digitally in camera. You don’t want to blow out your highlights or your blacks so much that you are losing information. Read your camera manual to see if your camera has histogram capabilities & how to view it. Canon users can view their histogram when shooting in live view which is great for night time shooting.



  • Location

Scout out your location at the time of day you are planning to shoot. You need to see if your plan is going to work with the sun. You may need to change your shoot from morning to afternoon or daybreak to sunset to capture the look you are wanting.


  • Back light

This topic would not be compete with touching on back light. You have the opportunity to rim your subject and set them apart from the environment with back light. Position your subject with the sun behind them. I like to move off center then to get some amazing shots. I love shooting at a narrow aperture so the background typically is overexposed unless I am using a strobe or speed light to help pull down that environmental exposure and fill in the subject. Don’t be afraid to move around to get the look you want. Move up, down, right & left. The following images were created in back light.






Most importantly, get out there & have some fun shooting. Don’t limit yourself to shooting only a couple hours a day. Get creative & use your environment to shoot some really awesome portraits in the sun! I hope these tips & tricks have given you some new ideas to try with your photography adventures.