Happy Wednesday & Happy Pancake Day!!
Over the past week and a half it’s been the craziest thing, in that we’ve had the same question come up about five different times from five different people and in five different ways. So we took that as a sign that it was high time to make a Pancake Session out of it! The question first came up in person last week and then again from someone else in an email, once on Facebook, and then again on Instagram….and it is: how do you go about shooting in really harsh light?
I think the high noon First Look is one of the most dreaded, anxiety-inducing enemy of most photographers. The light is bright, the shadows are harsh, the highlights are off the charts, the eyes are squinty. In short, it ain’t pretty.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
So for today’s Pancake Post, here is our three-pronged strategy for dealing with harsh light. We hope it helps!
**Each of the pictures below was shot in that 12-2pm range during the summer, in what we would all consider crazy, harsh light.
1. Look for a spot where the sun is everywhere. It sounds really counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Here’s this thing we don’t like (harsh light), so now let’s look for more of it. This was especially hard for me to wrap my head around as someone who had been so set in the mindset of just looking for open shade (solid even shade usually cast by a building of some sort that blocks out the harsh light and creates more even light). But the thing is, sometimes you just don’t have any open shade available and all you have is dappled light. Or maybe the shade that you have is coming off of a red barn and creating really awful color casts in your images. In those cases, what we do is look for something out in the wide open where the light is hitting everything. Because if it’s ALL in that sunlight then everything is that same exposure, and you can just expose for that. It’s only when you start to see some things in shade in the background that it will betray just how harsh the light actually was.
2. Also look for a spot in that wide open light that has a light colored, neutral ground. In New England, we get a lot of clam shell driveways. In the city, it might be the light concrete of the sidewalks. On the beach, the white sand. But whatever it is, that light colored ground is going to help bounce light back up into the front of our subjects to create soft, pretty light on their faces. In the two pictures below, we were on a beach in Miami around 12 in the afternoon and I was scared you guys! :) But as soon as we started shooting, I realized the combination of everything being in bright sun (and therefore the same exposure) and that beautiful white sand as fill, was actually giving us a fairly soft result in the image.
You can see in this picture below that the addition of the umbrella was actually creating some of that dappling in the shadows on their faces, betraying that the light at around 12pm in Miami can be pretty harsh! :) We were able to position the umbrella at an angle off to the side to keep most of it off their faces, but you can still see just a little bit on the left of Sonia’s face. If I could “Plus One” this picture, I would have either shifted the umbrella a little more or most likely gotten rid of it (and therefore the tell tale shadows) completely.
3. Now position the sun behind the subjects at angle of around 10 or 2 on a clock. Putting the light behind our subjects means that it’s not blasting them in the face & causing them to squint, and just helps to soften it in general. But we always try to be careful not to put the sun directly behind them during harsh light times for a couple of reasons. The first is that at that time of day, putting the sun directly behind them will typically result in having our subjects completely silhouetted even with all that light fill from the ground. And the second reason, is that when we put the light directly behind them it casts a hard shadow of them directly in front of them. Which can end up looking weird/less natural in a lot of cases. Positioning the light behind them but off to the left or right just a bit (like at the 10 & 2 position on a clock) will cause those shadows to fall off to the side a little in a more natural way like the picture you see below.
And finally, when in doubt, if you feel like any kind of shadow is really betraying how hard the light was right then, you can always just go closer and crop that shadow that they’re casting out of your frame completely.
As always, we hope this helps! And if you have any questions at all, feel free to leave them in the comment box below & we’ll do our best to answer them!
Rock it out friends!
**If you need more help on ROCKING your light in ANY situation like night shots or reception details, definitely check out our J&M Lighting Guide by clicking HERE!!