I did a photo shoot with Kelli Rika this week and wanted to share some behind the scenes photos and discuss direct sun vs. backlighting.
I love shooting in direct sunlight. It can create such beautiful tones and add a lovely harshness to your portrait. Below is a photo that my assistant, Cassidy, took on her iPhone. As you can see, the lighting is very bright and appears far too orange. These don't typically seem to be the components of a good portrait.
However, when shooting in manual, you can use all of those negatives to your advantage! I was using a Canon 5D Mark III with the 50mm 1.2L lens. I kept my aperture wide open at a 1.6, my shutter speed was 1/5000, and my ISO was at the lowest possible stop – 100. Here is the result:
What I really love about direct light is it creates such contrasting shadows. It's moody. It's harsh. It's stylized. In this photo especially, I love the elongated shadow it creates on the wall beside her. This shooting method cannot be utilized at any time of the day, though. This photo was taken at 7:45AM, just 15 minutes after the sun rose. Since we were shooting in downtown, the sun had barely peeked out from above the buildings around us. It allowed her to look towards the sun without it hurting her eyes or becoming unflattering. I would suggest only trying this right at sunrise, or immediately before the sun sets. Otherwise it's just far too harsh of lighting.
Let's take a look at another photo.
This time, the model is standing with her back toward the sun. As you can see in the iPhone photo, again taken by Cassidy, the sun has just peeked over the building. When you shoot on a smart phone, backlighting can result in underexposure of the foreground. Basically, your phone focuses all of it's attention on the sunlight, and unless you direct it's focus elsewhere, it's going to expose to the sun, causing everything else to be underexposed.
This time, my camera settings were f/1.6 and shutter speed 1/3200. I was still shooting with the 50mm and my ISO was at 100 (where it practically lives). I'll show you the RAW image first.
There is a really nice soft light associated with this style. You can get some interesting sun flares or have the light just barely enter the frame, it just depends on where you position your model. All I really wanted to do for this image was brighten it, add a warm gradient, and remove the crane from the background.
This lighting is a great option when you're trying to soften the subject's face. Say you're shooting a child and you want to keep that warm, soft glow on their face. Or maybe you're shooting someone with blemishes or wrinkles, if you position them with their back to the sun, their face is almost always going to look softer and than if they face the sun. Be careful with positioning them directly in front of the light source, though! It can become very difficult to focus properly. If this is an issue, just bump your aperture to f/2.5 or f/4.0 (let in less light) and you'll have more ability to focus on their face.
Typically, I like to use backlighting when I shoot at sunset. This is how you get that great "golden hour" glow in the background of your photos. That or you fake it with photoshop haha. We can talk about that later ;)