The question is: How do we use this gigantic moving light source effectively for beautiful photos within the limitations of our camera systems?
Five quick tips on how to create great airy, light, delicate, moody, atmospheric photos in natural light:
An easy way to avoid hard shadows and squinty eyes is to have the sun act like a catchlight or a bright highlight by placing it behind your subjects. Make effective use of your surroundings by looking for natural reflectors. A natural reflector could be a white wall, a bright concrete slab, windows, bright alleys, grass, snow, etc. No more messing around with fill flashes. If the sun is way too bright, look for shade in the trees from where you can still see the sun poking through. Catch the light with your camera and you’ll get some fantastic flare action.
1. Shoot into the sun
When shooting into the sun, the biggest problem might be that there’s not enough front fill lighting on your subjects. That’s when the power of a RAW file comes in handy. It’s fairly easy to rescue the shadows in Lightroom or Photography as long as there’s enough digital information there. You’d be surprised by how much extra information lies in the shadows of a RAW file compared to a JPEG file. I can safely rescue about 1-2 stops of shadow detail without much fuss and if I need more, I’ll bust out my trusty Noiseware Professional to help smooth out the noise.
2. Shoot in RAW and process in post
Notice the highlights on Tony and Lauren’s hair and how after post-processing in Lightroom, the front fill lighting on them is diffused and soft.
My favorite moment at any wedding or engagement shoot happens during the hour before sunset known as the “golden hour” and the half hour after the sun disappears below the horizon aka “twilight.” If you go to any beach during a Californian sunset, you’ll see droves of people watching the coast as the sky transitions into brilliant shades of red and orange. Like a newborn kitten, it’s just one of those things that we as humans find inherently beautiful (I may be biased).
3. Shoot during “Golden Hour”
If you’re curious as to why it happens at the physical level, check out Rayleigh Scattering. It explains why the sky is blue and why sunsets are red. I knew college would come in handy someday!
Take advantage of the diffused lighting conditions offered by the sunset. I’ll tend to stick to rule #1 by continuing to shoot into the sun as long as I can see it above the horizon. Use the sun as a point light source and make it into an interesting part of the background. When the sun goes below the horizon, I have the option of turning around with the sunset behind me to get some really even light across the subject(s) and/or I can continue shooting westward for some amazing silhouettes!
However, even with these ultra-fast lenses, there are times when you want to stop it down to f/8-f/22 so that you can creatively use a sunburst effect to make your photos interesting. This is especially helpful when you want to tell your viewer, “Hey, I was shooting against the sun… see??” Without stopping down, the sun would come out as a huge hazy blob of light. It sometimes helps to position yourself so the sun is peaking out, instead of by itself. It helps control the intensity of the light to a degree.
Take a friend and just experiment. See it as a light study. Try and find as many different ways you can use the sun as a major element in your photos and you’ll find your confidence. The more you shoot, the better you’ll become.
5. Have fun!
Leave any questions or comments below and I’d love to help or at least point you in the right direction. :)