People love to shoot at sunrise and sunset, and why not? It’s a beautiful time of the day where the sun is doing all of the hard work for you. That low horizon light is flattering in almost all cases and will often remove the need for external flashes completely.
There are times, however, when you can’t escape the mid-day sun, and that harsh, overhead light, can be anything but flattering to your subjects. This was the case when I was recently asked to take a series of portraits for the Akron/Canton Regional Food Bank. The job was to take photos of the clients and volunteers of the food bank, and because the area food banks often hand food out in the late mornings I was constantly faced with shooting with the noon-day sun in the sky. In cases such as this, it’s strongly recommended that you use some sort of a fill light, and if you do it right your photo will be beautifully exposed with your background and subjects left looking amazing.
The way I approach this problem is fairly simple. The sun will almost always be at some sort of angle to you, even in the middle of summer at high noon. The trick is to find that small difference in angle and then put your subject’s backs to it. In this way, you are using the sun as sort of a huge, nuclear rim light. You’re also keeping the sun out of their eyes, which helps reduce squinting.
The next trick is exposure. Since your using an external light source to expose your subject correctly, you need to set your camera to expose for the background. Here I like to use the magic -1 to -2 ev trick. Darkening the background in this way will both saturate the colors of the background and make your subjects pop.
All that’s left now is positioning and dialing in your light’s power. This part is where you can get creative, but generally I like to use a fairly large light source (I use an umbrella/octobox similar to this on location with my AlienBee’s 800) with it positioned directly in front of, or just to the side of my subjects. Light power is set to generally equal neutral exposure on the subjects, although more or less power can be used to add drama.
Some people love the control they get in their studio, others love the freedom they have by shooting outdoors. Personally, I think they both have just about the same amount of pros and cons in each of their respective columns. That’s why I like to bring a little bit one into the other. When I am shooting in my studio, I’ll use windows or reflectors to hardness natural light, and when I am shooting outdoors I’ll bring a flash (or two, or seven) along to shape the light into a perfect fit for the scene. This was the case recently when we were asked to shoot an outdoor golfing event.
We started the job by scouting out the location twice. Once soon after we took on the task, and once more a few days before the event just to make sure our expectations and gear checklist were all in line.
We settled on hole #14 which has several advantages. One, it had some shade throughout most of the day. Since I knew I was bringing a large strobe, I knew I could light the players in the foreground as I wished while still using the ambient light to take care of the background. Our chosen hole also had a Pro Teebox that was raised some 4 feet above the amateur Teebox. That let me get my camera about 4 feet extra above the player’s heads which let me capture players and the rolling course behind them.
The light I chose was an Alienbees 800 with a Phototek 5′ Phototek Softlighter II. I then exposed for the background (which changed a lot throughout the day) and then set the light levels accordingly. Because of the huge size of the umbrella, I was able to have the light on the hill with me and still light up the entire area around the players in a very soft manner.