How to Light a Photograph With Sunlight

Natural can enhance skin tones and natural objects, and provide powerful, dramatic lighting without the need for special equipment or a power source. The easiest and most available source of natural is, of course, the sun. Follow these steps to use to light your .


Step 1
Decide whether you want a subtle or dramatic lighting effect. Subtle natural lighting, known as soft lighting, will produce fewer pronounced shadows, be more flattering to skin tones and give an overall even lighting of your subject. Dramatic lighting, usually known as hard lighting, will produce high contrast, with bright spots on the sunlit side of your subject and deep shadows on the other side. For the most dramatic lighting, try creating a silhouette, in which your subject is just a shadow against the bright light of the sun.

Step 2
For soft lighting, shoot your photo either in the early morning, in the late afternoon before sunset, on an overcast day, or on a bright day in the shade. This will minimize the shadows and lines. For soft lighting, the sun should be behind the camera.

Step 3
Hard lighting can be achieved best on a bright, sunny day, during most of the afternoon, when the sun is high in the sky and shining strongly on the subject. If you want to create particularly striking shadows, sidelight your subject (that is, have your subject standing with his side to the sun). For even more drama, place your subject in a darkened area where sunlight is streaming through at a single point, such as in a dim room near a window or door.

Step 4
Achieve a silhouette by backlighting your subject during a bright part of the day, preferably when the sun is on a strong angle. Backlighting is when the light is shining toward the camera from behind your subject, darkening the subject to a shadowy figure in the bright light. You will lose distinguishing features, but for striking, pronounced shapes and poses, backlighting can create a powerful effect.

Step 5
Use reflected light to even out shadows, or for a smoother transition from highlights to shadows, by reflecting light back at your subject. All you need is a piece of white poster board. Prop it up, or have someone hold it up, in front of and slightly below your subject. Make sure it is out of the frame. Manipulate the poster board until it is reflecting light back at your subject, softening the lines and filling in some of the shadows. For a very even lighting effect with soft lighting, you can use two poster boards, one on each side of your subject, placed between the subject and the camera.

Step 6
If you are unhappy with the unevenness or harshness of the light, you can use a fill light. This is a second light source that “fills” in shadowy areas, such as beneath the ridge of the eye, under the nose and under the chin in a portrait. The easiest fill light available to you is your flash, though you can use any type of electric light source with varying results. Experiment using a fill light, as well as reflecting your fill light with poster board. With practice, you can learn to manipulate sunlight to achieve many different effects and create the look that you desire.

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