This image was created in the bright, midday sunshine using both a reflector to block most of the sunlight and a flash to fill in the shadows.

This image was created in the bright, midday sunshine using both a reflector to block most of the sunlight and a flash to fill in the shadows.

 

Summer is almost here and, with it, will arrive more beautiful warm, sunny days. To most people these sunny days are the best times to take pictures of family and friends while visiting or taking the kids to a park. And while we all look forward to these bright, beautiful days (especially here in Seattle!) they can actually be your worst enemy when it comes to taking pictures outdoors. Why?

Direct sunlight, especially from above, creates harsh shadows. The human eye is able to process this wide dynamic range of light without too much but camera sensors (and film if you still use it) don’t yet have the same ability to capture the details in these extreme conditions. This is why you’ll get a lot of “raccoon eyes” when you take a picture with the sun directly overhead. With the brow bone doing its job to protect your eyes, the camera just can’t handle such a wide range of light. And if you like to shoot land or cityscapes your images will look flat because direct overhead lighting takes away the contour and depth of the scene you’re trying to capture.

The best outdoor condition for photography is overcast. The clouds evenly spread soft light across your subject and the landscape giving your camera an easier time of producing a nice image. But we can’t always put off vacations or our kids’ outdoor play dates until the clouds roll in. So what do you do to get great pictures on a sunny day?

Here are five tips that will improve your photography for the sunny summer ahead of us!

1.     Look for Shade: Shade from a tree, building, or other structure provides beautiful, even lighting that your camera will be able to capture without a problem. And your subjects won’t be battling to keep their eyes open in the glaring sun.

2.     Use Your Flash: Sounds counter intuitive but what your flash will do is fill in the darker areas with added light so your camera can read the details in those areas. How well this works depends on the capabilities of your camera but even a little light can sometimes make a big difference.

We captured this portrait just before sunset using a flash to fill in the shadows on the right side of the subject.

We captured this portrait just before sunset using a flash to fill in the shadows on the right side of the subject.

3.     Use a Reflector: You can go out and buy a professional reflector or simply use a sheet of white paper or some foam core. Just reflect the sun into the shadow side of your subject so your camera can get all the detail.

4.     Over Expose Your Image: This will only work under certain circumstances. If you’re not worried about what’s in the background and only want to capture the faces or front side of your subjects, have them turn their backs to the sun and, if your camera allows it, overexpose the image by one or more stops. You would need to overexpose because your camera will most likely use the overwhelming background light to set the exposure leaving your subjects in the dark. By overexposing you’re camera will allow in the necessary light to reveal your subjects.

5.     Wait Until Sunrise or Sunset: Just avoid the overhead sun altogether! The lower the sun is, the better the light. It’s softer and the horizontal direction reveals beautiful textures and colors in your subjects. This is especially true for landscapes. Nobody wants to get up early while on vacation but that’s when you’re going to get the best photos of magnificent landscapes and great city scenes. Plus you’ll avoid the crowds of people waiting

There you go. You might want to try experimenting by combining two or more of these tips to get even better results. Like anything else new it might seem like too much of a hassle to go through these steps but stick with it and after a while it’ll all be second nature and you’ll have some beautiful memories to share with family and friends!

Got questions? Let me know and I’ll be happy to give you some extra tips to improve your photos.

Until next time!
Charlie
cc@cotugnophoto.com
425.501.9725

Charlie Cotugno is the owner of Charles Cotugno Photography in Woodinville, WA specializing in fine art portraits for families, high school seniors, and special needs clients. In addition he provides commercial photography services to businesses of all sizes. He is also the founder and board president of the non-profit organization Stories of Autism, a network of over 150 photographers from around the U.S. whose mission is to increase awareness, acceptance, and inclusion of people with autism spectrum disorders. For more information about Charlie and Stories of Autism please visit www.cotugnophoto.com.