It never fails. When I go to a beautiful and scenic area on a beautiful bright sunny afternoon, I see people take photos of their loved ones. After all, we want to mark the moment, right? But, more often than not, the photos look horrendous with harsh shadowing such as “raccoon eyes.”
So, what do we do to help out the situation? Remember the old Kodak guidebooks that came along with your new Kodak camera purchase? They would say that on sunny days you should face your subject towards the sun with the sun directly behind you? That would get rid of harsh shadows for sure, right? Well, perhaps. But you get one of two things happening that are not desirable. Either (A) the subject is squinting or eyes watering because of the effects of the bright sun or (B) subjects with unflattering head shapes end up accentuated because now their face appears even more round and flat than before.
So, throw that old Kodak guideline out the door and consider trying these tactics instead if you must shoot during harsh lighting conditions outdoors.
Use your flash, yes, I said flash. Flash isn’t just for night shots and is often one of the most misunderstood tools of a camera.
Position your subject with the sun hitting one side of the face and ensure your flash is on so that it subtly fills in some of the harsh shadowing on the other side of the face. This creates a more dynamic photo because the shading helps provide structure to the face but it isn’t overly dark to where the contrast is too great.
You can also invest in a small collapsible 5-in-1 reflector or even use something white (such as a white jacket) to bounce light from the sun towards the subject’s unlit areas to fill in some of the shadows. The bounced light effect is less harsh and easier to control than many flashes and is used often by professional photographers both indoors and outdoors.
Small reflectors cost in the neighborhood of $25 and often have 5 functions in one reflector: soft gold side for warmer color tones; silver side though this is more for contrast photos that are often desired in black/white photography; white side that produces a neutral-colored light; and a translucent fabric that helps diffuse light similar to tight netting that you can create a less-contrast shadow.
So, if you must shoot in the harsh sun, you’ll drastically improve your subject’s outcome with one of these techniques. Wait for a bright sunny day and give it a try!