How to Take Unforgettable Sunlit Portraits

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  By Jonathan Ma
How to Take Unforgettable Sunlit Portraits

Sunlit portraits have a special feel, capturing the majestic rays of the sun. These types of bright and happy portraits are usually taken during the summer but can be taken during other times of the year too by planning in advance. The location of sunlit portraits can also vary greatly. Sun flares, the sun glows, and backlit portraits are some of the different topics we’ll discuss in this article. We’ll take a look at what angles will be flattering to your subject, and what angles to avoid.

Sunlit Fields

One of my favorites locations for sunlit portraits are fields of grass or hay. The reason for this is that the fields create a natural-looking backdrop. The sun also creates a very warm glow on the fields, especially the tips. This especially flattering for any female subjects that you may be photographing. In the photo above, the photographer was able to avoid the harsh glare of the sun by having the subject cover the brightest part of the sun. It’s a good idea to have the subject bring a hat also, to avoid harsh shadows on their face. A hat can provide shade for their face and provides more even lighting.

Lock Exposure on the Subject

One of the toughest challenges of sunlit portraits is choosing the right camera exposure. Especially in backlit portraits, the camera will usually try to expose for the entire image. To overcome this hurdle, make sure you set your camera setting to spot metering. Then point the center dot of the viewfinder to a part of the subject’s body that you want the camera to calculate the exposure for. Finally, press the lock exposure button on your camera. With the exposure locked, you’re free to recompose the image and shoot. Another way to set the camera exposure is manually through trial-and-error processes. You can manually adjust the exposure compensation in brightening or darken the overall image. Try taking a few test shots, then check the histogram to see whether the image is too bright or too dark. Ideally, you don’t want too much of the image on the left side of the histogram as that would mean the photo is comprised of mostly shadows. If most of the histogram is towards the right side, then it’d mean the photo was really bright and had lots of highlights. You could try lowering the exposure in that case.


Why Back-Lit Photos Look Good

When shooting with the sun, many photographers will choose to back-light their subject. This is especially true during the golden hour, the approximately 1-hour time periods after sunrise and before sunset. If you look at the photo above, you’ll see that there’s a golden glow on the left side of the subject’s body – that’s the side the sun is facing. The golden glow gives the photo a majestic and magnificent look. To achieve the best effect, position the subject diagonally under the stun, instead of directly under it. One of the pros of shooting with the sun behind the subject is to avoid the subject having to squint. Also, when the sun is in front of the subject it can appear harsh and create strong shadows, especially on the subjects face. These shadows are very unappealing and usually, want to be avoided.

Beach Glow

Taking photos on the beach is always fun, but taking photos on the beach with the sun lighting everything is even better! Sunsets along the beach provide great opportunities to take portraits. The way that the water reflects the sunlight creates a great backdrop for portraits. The best times to take photos on the beach are during the golden hour when the lighting from the sun is not too harsh like the midday sun. If the sun rises from the East at the beach you’re at, try to schedule a photo shoot at sunrise to capture the soft light. On the contrary, if the sun rises from the West at the beach you’ll be shooting at, schedule a photo shoot at sunset for the best results. Shooting with the amazing lighting that you will be able to achieve at those hours is incomparable to any other time of the day.

Happy shooting!


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Jonathan Ma

Jonathan Ma is a freelance writer and professional photographer. He grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest of the United States. The natural beauty that surrounds this area has helped him to learn to appreciate art and photography. Jonathan's favorite styles of photography are nature and sports photography. He enjoys learning and teaching others what he knows.

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