How To Take Better Outdoor Photos

Take Better Outdoor Photos

It’s a beautiful day and the sun is shining bright overhead. This would be a perfect time of day to take a photo, right?  Most likely not!!  If you are photographing people during this time of day you will probably notice that the sun has cast dark shadows on your subject’s face creating dark circles under their eyes and bright highlight areas that are lacking detail.  When shooting in direct sunlight what might have been a great shot with the proper lighting may turn out to have extreme contrast due to the harsh light of the sun.  Proper lighting is often overlooked by those who just want to take a quick photo, but if you want to take a great shot you may consider waiting for the best time of day when the sun is rising or on its way down and not directly hitting your subject from above.   Although some cameras are pretty good with their auto exposure setting it can’t compensate enough for the different exposures needed to balance out the highlight and shadow details without the help of a fill flash.

Hint:   The built in pop-up flash on your camera is notorious for creating additional harsh shadows and red-eye, it also lacks the ability to cast light beyond a few feet and renders useless in most cases.  Buy a portable flash for your camera and you will have much better results.  Below are some lighting styles and techniques that can be used to balance out the harsh light of the sun.  

Diffusing the Sun with Clouds & Shade

Utilizing the clouds is a great way to control outdoor lighting.  Clouds diffuse the sun resulting in less contrast and more even lighting overall.  If it is only partly cloudy on the day of your shoot wait until the sun is behind the clouds and shoot during this time.  You can also move your subject into a shady area and try using a little fill flash.

Backlighting Technique

HS-1Using the sun as a backlight for your subject is a great technique. To do this, you should position your subject so that the sun is behind them.  This will create a backlight as well as a rim of light around them.  It will also help your subject’s facial expression because they will not be squinting from the sun.  The drawback is that this will cast a shadow on the subject’s face.  The best way to correct for this is through the use of a simple reflector being held at an angle that will reflect the sunlight onto the face, or you can use your flash to add some fill light.  This technique will require practice with your flash to balance the lighting.

The Golden Hour


The golden hour is considered the best time of day to take stunning photographs and typically known to take place one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset.  It is called the golden hour because the sun is low in the sky and a golden light can be captured during this time.

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Putting it all Together

The best advice one can offer to someone shooting outdoors is to prepare in advance and make sure to choose the best time of day like the golden hour when the sun is low and not shining directly from above.  If you are shooting with the sun overhead try moving into the shade and using some fill flash, or you can try the backlighting technique.  Experiment with these techniques and you will see a great improvement in your photos.

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