02 Aug 2012

The Author

Andy Lim got started in photography after leaving design college, and has given several public talks on the subject of photography. SimpleSLR Workshops Photography workshops from beginners to advanced levels. SimpleSLR Guides Author of best-selling e-book series. Photography Tips Author of useful and practical tips on GoodPhotography.info website. Emotion in Pictures Accomplished professional wedding photographer. His brand attracts clients worldwide with his unique flavor of wedding and portrait photography.


Using the Sun Creatively in Outdoor Portraits
Wedding + Portrait Photography: Emotion in Pictures by Andy Lim

This was taken from a series of portraits done recently. Both images below were shot with the couple standing in EXACTLY the same spot, using the setting sun as a light source. What I want to point out is the direction of the sun in each of the images. We can achieve side-lighting, back-lighting and three-quarter lighting without asking them to move from their spot.

Image 1

Image 1 was taken with the light source (the sun) at a 90 degree angle to the camera, resulting in a side lighting that highlights contours, texture and shape. See how the texture on the tree is brought out. Depending on where the couple is looking, this setup can also be used for short lighting (as opposed to broad lighting). The key light (main light) here is the sun itself.

Image 2

Image 2 had the sun right behind the couple. This setup, with the light source at the back of the subjects, creates a somewhat evenly spread light on them, as the key light is actually reflected light from the sky and whatever the sun is shining at. At the same time, some flare from the sun brightens up the edges of the couple. If you position yourself to shoot when the sun is right between the couple, you’ll end up with a nice warm orange flare right in the middle of the couple, seen in the topmost image.

A third scenario (not shown here) is with the sun behind the camera. This should be used carefully, as the sun can end up being an on-axis light source which is generally unflattering. A slight variation in the angle would help to create a 45 degree light source, which can be used as a short light if the furthest side of the subject’s face is being lit, or broad light if the nearest side of the face is being lit.

In portraiture, short lighting is generally preferred because it is more flattering. This is achieved by lighting the farthest side of the face, which creates the illusion of a slimmer face. This works well for subjects with broader faces.
On the other hand, broad lighting is created by lighting the side of the face nearest to the camera. This accentuates the width of the face, and can be used to your advantage if you wanted to make a very thin face appear broader.

The quality of light can also determine if you will end up with a great portrait. On a very clear day, the sunlight is very harsh and creates distinct shadows. On overcast days, the diffused sunlight may mimic a gigantic softbox. This type of light wraps around your subject and creates very diffuse shadows, which means that the edges of the shadows are very soft.

Want to master natural light portraiture? You can’t go wrong with this excellent DVD tutorial by SLR Lounge.

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portrait lighting with speedlights