Photo Tips #3 - Portraits in Direct Sunlight


hen it comes to taking portraits, nothing is worse for a photographer than having to deal with direct sunlight. It's really bright and casts harsh, unflattering shadows on your subject's face. Consequently, it can cause your subject to have to squint or partially close their eyes which in turn causes crow's feet to show up.

So how do you deal with it?

The easiest option is to not to take photos at that time of day, or in bright sunlight at all. However, that's not great if you're out for an all day adventure in the fells. So, what do you do?

The next easiest option is to take your portraits in the shade. Ok, still perhaps not always achievable, and so you may have to create it yourself. Either, turn your subject (if you can) so the light is not casting a shadow - no good if you're after a landscape shot, or even, get a friend or passer-by to hold an umbrella or coat to create some shade.

Then, all you've got to do is ensure your subject isn't too dark compared to your background.

When I'm out taking portraits I'll always try to carry my 5 in 1 reflector. It's a circular, collapsible piece of material that comes with 5 different surfaces: white, gold, silver, black and a partially transparent diffuser. The latter is what you need here.

Holding the diffusion material in front of the sun will let some light through but will also remove the edge of any shadows on your subject's face. The closer to the subject that it is held the darker their face will be. The further away, the light is scattered more and other light rays from the sun bounce off other nearby surfaces to fill in the darker areas. You can prove this theory by holding it closer, further away and then comparing the shadows.

My 5 in 1 reflector I got free with a magazine subscription around 20 years ago. They're lightweight, have a small pack size and are pretty robust. You can pick them up online now from around £10, but the bigger the better. Mine is around a metre in diameter and is suitable for a lot of the work I do. Still, well worth it if you want to do a good job and there's no one else around to help.

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Portrait image of Lake District photographer, Al Topping Photos & Film