Sunny days, shady ways

If you've ever tried to take pictures on a sunny day, you've probably experienced my recent pain. I came across a pretty blue field of flowers, and thought, "What a perfect spot for a photo!". But shooting in the bright, mid-day sun resulted in a picture that was all wrong: the strong sun created an unflattering combination of harsh shadows and overexposed spots on my son's face.

Short of leaving my camera at home on sunny days (which I've been known to do!), how could I create better images? Well, one answer is to find Open Shade.

First things first, not all shade is created equal. With Open Shade, you're looking for a couple key things: 

  • Full shade created by a building, tree or other object to block the sun. You don't want your subject in partial shade or dappled light, because the bright spots behind your subject can be distracting.
  • The sun should be behind your subject (although it will be blocked by the aforementioned object), with your subject facing the blue sky. The sky will reflect light back onto your subject.   
  • A reflective surface in front of our subject  (like concrete, snow, sand, etc.) to bounce light back up at subject. Position your subject behind the sun/shade line: close enough to ensure light is reflecting back onto your subject, but not too close that the reflected light is overly strong.

Here are a couple images of how I set up my experiment with Open Shade.

My house is blocking the sun and my son is sitting behind the sun/shade line
My son was facing a blue sky (although it wasn't ideal since the houses blocked some of the light)
And finally the finished picture! The light is nice and even, which creates a creamy, bright skin tone. He also has large catchlights (the reflected light in his eyes), which add depth to the picture and draw your attention to his eyes.

For comparison sake, here's what happened when I tried the exact same shot, but placed him in front of the sun/shade line. 

In the side-by-side comparison, you'll notice that in the sunny picture on the right, his neck, shoulder and hat are very over exposed, while his face is lacking the brightness of the picture on the left.

One thing to be careful of is colour casts from the reflected light. If the surface in front of your subject has a strong colour, like green grass, that colour can bounce back up onto your subject. Take a look at the greenish tinge to my son's face below, particularly in the close up shot.

The reflected green is especially noticeable under his lips and to the left of his chin
Now that I have learned to love the shade in sunny days, I can't wait for summer to begin!