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Thread: Portrait lighting in bright sunlight?

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    Portrait lighting in bright sunlight?

    In a couple of days from now I have an "opportunity" to do an outdoor portrait at 10 in the morning on what I expect to be a bright sunny day, a nightmare scenario I have diligently managed to avoid for years.

    Bad news is most probably no shade within whistling distance. Good is I have with me two fairly powerful portable strobes with stands and umbrella reflectors, so am trying to figure out the best way to handle the lighting so the subject doesn't end up looking like an overfried sardine.

    My main difficulty is to figure out in which direction to face the subject in relationship to the sun and where to position the lights to achieve an evenly lit scene with as much detail as possible, no squinty eyes, and no overwhelming shadows?

    My best guess so far is to position the subject at right angles to the sun and to position one of my lights as a filler on the opposite side of the camera from the sun. But maybe would be better to have the sun behind the subject and use the two lights on either side of the camera to slightly overpower the amount of background light created by the sun (if this makes sense)?

    Like many others I have more fear of lighting than flying so would like to ask what would you do (apart from of course test the lighting setup before the shoot)?

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    Re: Portrait lighting in bright sunlight?

    Your intuition is a good one to go with, generally if I can make a background work shooting with the sun to my subjects back I will, it provides a nice and free rim light for hair and body and depending on the intensity it will usually match the ambient exposure fairly well if its bright out.

    Here is an example that I shot this weekend with the a7r and one light, in this case an elinchrom quadra (way overkill for this, a speedlight could have easily done this with 1/4 or 1/8 power) with shoot through umbrella and elinchrom trigrip for fill below.

    Jenn by PeteTsai, on Flickr
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    Re: Portrait lighting in bright sunlight?

    Thanks Pete for the inspiration!

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    Re: Portrait lighting in bright sunlight?

    Big overhead diffusion panel would work best IMO and provide very natural and soft lighting. More comfortable for the sitter than posing in full sun and no squinting etc. . If you need a bit more contrast just add some artificial accent lighting with your strobes (hair/rim or what ever looks nice).

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    Re: Portrait lighting in bright sunlight?

    Generally I like the sun behind the subject, for two main reasons: no squinty eyes and backlighting on the subject for nice rim glows.

    The flash will now add some direction and fill depending where you put it and diffuse it to taste! Sometimes, the most difficult is posing in open area where the sun is direct above the subject, but there is always a solution, one is not to shoot in such an open space :P
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    Re: Portrait lighting in bright sunlight?

    I am also concerned about strong overhead light from the sun. I take the hint about using a big overhead diffuser but would that not apart from the logistical challenge of rigging it up also leave me with burnt out highlights in the background? Sure would be better not to have to shoot in this situation and if lucky can find a way out but want to be prepared for the worst. Anyways one challenge of being a photographer apart from being able to get one very fine photo once every so often is also to be able to get one ok photo in any situation, right?

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    Re: Portrait lighting in bright sunlight?

    Embrace the light. Put the sun over your shoulder and directly onto the subject. It will flatten out while giving very defining shadows. I can then control the shadows with fill.

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    Re: Portrait lighting in bright sunlight?

    Quote Originally Posted by Shashin View Post
    Embrace the light. Put the sun over your shoulder and directly onto the subject. It will flatten out while giving very defining shadows. I can then control the shadows with fill.
    Can you post examples of this approach?

    "Directly into the subject" seems to defy the "squinty eye" issue so many subjects are very sensitive to sunlight even in shaded areas if the background behind you is very bright.

    - Marc

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    Re: Portrait lighting in bright sunlight?

    Sure. Herb Ritts was known for shooting in direct sun. Examples can be found here.

    loveisspeed.......: Herb Ritts Photography...Life with

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    Re: Portrait lighting in bright sunlight?

    maybe that is why the body builder has a lamp shade on his head? :-)

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    Re: Portrait lighting in bright sunlight?

    .... And then I saw the Clint Eastwood portrait
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    Re: Portrait lighting in bright sunlight?

    I had exactly the same thought when I noticed Clint Eastwood (some great images though)

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    Re: Portrait lighting in bright sunlight?

    loved the Ritt work, very inspiring

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