For those who associate with me on Facebook and Twitter, you have heard me comment about the absolutely stunning, almost ethereal quality of fall and winter sunlight, especially that which strikes the earth in the late afternoon. And a shoot from this past week stands as perfect testimony to that fact.
This is from a shoot that I conducted with a great family from the local area who had been asking me for several months to do their portraits. Our schedules finally meshed, and we had a wonderful time during the session.
The late afternoon’s directional, warm-hued light was simply amazing, especially when used as a rim light opposite my reflective umbrella rig. A simple technique that I employ for making the most out of this is to have the subjects stand near an object that will break up the light — while not exactly diffusing it — such as near or under a tree. This allows you to reap all the benefits of the quality of the light while toning down some of the harshness by having it broken up by the leaves (not many left) and branches. This will also help to add some extra dimension to the image by introducing a variety of shadows and patterns. You can then use just the sun, if you’re wanting to go with all natural light, or you can throw light onto the subject with either a reflector or a strobe (top and right).
Keep your subject(s) entirely in the shade with the golden sunlight illuminating the background. This creates a wonderful contrast with varying shades and adds a little subtle tension between background and foreground. The key to making it work, however, is to illuminate your subject with artificial light. Otherwise, by opening up your camera to capture the proper exposure of the foreground, you will end up with an overpoweringly-bright background…unless that’s the idea you were specifically going for.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do is simply take on the sun full force — no shade, no diffusers. In the image above I had my two subjects stand so that his back was to the sun creating a shadow in which to capture both of their faces. Sure, some of the extraneous details are washed out, but that simply gives way to main focus of the portrait. If you are photographing a single subject, you might try having them turn their head so one portion of their face (the portion you want to focus on) is slightly shadowed, allowing you to expose for that and letting the rest go as it may.