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How to shoot in mid day harsh light and embrace it!


If you are a portrait session photographer you can avoid shooting in harsh light by only shooting at sunset time. If you are a wedding photographer then you can really never avoid it. You will likely do detail shots, ceremonies, first looks, family photos, bridal party photos and sometimes even couple portraits in harsh light.

My advice for weddings:

For family photos, couples portraits, bridal party, details and first looks try to find shade whenever possible so that your skin tones will come out looking more true to real life and not blown out. I wanted to state that because I am all about embracing harsh light if you have to, but if you do not have to I prefer those true to life skin tones. If need to embrace harsh light then this blog post will teach you the tips and tricks how to on that.

For wedding ceremonies you cannot control usually anything about it, unless it is an elopement, in which I do encourage couples to do an exact time of day and show them where to stand for light. Sometimes you are dealing with crazy shadows, spotty light or full on harsh light. All of those can be so hard to shoot. So here will be some tips on how to embrace harsh light for ceremonies.

Ceremonies in harsh light:

  1. If the sun is right behind them shoot slightly at an angle and block hand rays with your hand that you can edit out later if you need to in order to see them properly. Also, shoot just him and just her from each side more than straight on as that will come out less washed out in editing.
  2. If sun is casting crazy shadows on him or her, then that is when I shoot a little underexposed by a stop to keep the coloring still in post. Then I brush as much of the shadow off as possible in editing. I also will add exposure to make it brighter in certain spots on their outfits or faces if needed after in editing too.
  3. For spotty light in a harsh light mid day time I try to notice this before they stand and if at all possible see if there is one step forward or backward that would help that situation. If there is a better solution I would show the couple where to stand pre ceremony to minimize spots on faces. If this is not possible and they cannot be moved then I would shoot as much from behind as possible (or whatever angle you notice the spots less). I had this happen at a venue where the only non spotty photos was behind the alter with them and the crowd in the photo behind them. They were some of their favorite photos after and mine too. You have to get creative with spotty light and shoot literally every angle to figure out what looks best in post. In post I brush exposure and shadows to help and make some in black and white as well. Honestly, this one even in editing there is no real fix other than embracing how it looked that day.

Example below of a couple:

Bridal party and family photos in harsh light:

  1. First of all, like I said above if you can find shade do so. If you need to embrace harsh light make sure your shadow is not in the photo and then make sure everyone is in a straight line so no shadows get on other people. You want their faces to be hitting the sun so it fills their whole face with light. They will be with their face to the sun so have them close their eyes and open on 3 so their eyes do not get tired. For editing I take down orange out of these and contrast just to help mesh well with non-harsh light photos. Example below:

Couple photos:

Usually if I am shooting couple photos in harsh light it is because we have an extra couple min after the first look. I know I can have fun with it since we have time for sunset photos later in the day usually. If this is the case and it is not your only time with them than fully embrace it. Have them stand with their faces always facing the sun and play around with shadows on their face. Have them use props to cast shadows on their faces, have them kiss with cool shadow casts, or just have them full on in the sun closing eyes and opening right when you are about to click for some cool kid like photos staring at my camera. Movement poses in harsh light is hard due to the sun’s placement. However, if you have them move have them aim their movement walking towards the sunlight at a diagonal angle usually. Watch for their shadows on their faces and if necessary fix a bit in post with exposure and shadow brush. Examples below of fully lite, harsh light couple photos.

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