Direct Sunlight Portraiture for Dramatic Effect

Using natural light inside

There is something beautiful about sunlight. It has a feeling that is so warm and natural and it can make people seem to almost glow. I love it so when I saw it happening in a studio in Detroit, I knew I wanted to take advantage of it.

Briana had been posing for some backlit shots with strobe and when she turned to go to the window I saw her pass through this little stream of light. The light was broken up by the window frame and seemed to have a little secondary glow on the dress below. This light-dark-light gave the image some depth.

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Here is the first image I shot from a small ladder. I wanted the downward look to the image to allow a feeling of a fleeting moment. The image in my mind should look like she was rushing by and the viewer caught the view for only an instant.

I had her lean forward just a little bit to add some direction to the shot and then worked her face in the light watching for too much shadow / hard edges. Keeping her turned toward the sun mitigates a lot of that hard shadow look. You can see that I made sure there was a little bit of light behind her so that there would be separation and definition of her hair against the background.
Briana in the sun in a studio in Detroit

The image above received a little desaturation and some skin smoothing.

Here is a second image from the same position. I added some significant Photoshop texturizing and a little sepia mixed in. Notice the angle of the face into the light to mitigate heavy shadows.
Headshot in Natural Light

The last shot is a close up and I brought myself down a little to get more in line with the light. By keeping her face and light closer to the axis of the camera, I was able to achieve what seems like a soft light with a very direct hard sun.
Briana in direct sun at the Baltimore Meetup, April 2008

Try doing some late day, direct light headshots. It must be near sunset though, as making your model stare into direct sun can be very hard on her eyes and un-necessary. Keep the light on axis as much as possible. That means placing yourself between the sun and the model so the light is coming from the direction of the camera. If you want to add a little more drama, move to the side but keep your model’s face turned toward the sun.


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About 

This is a place for photographers.

Hi, I'm wizwow - also known as Don Giannatti. Photography has been the focus of my life for most of my adult years. I have written three books for Amhearst Media (available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble: keyword 'don giannatti'. Lighting Essentials is my flagship blog and e-zine with a slightly different slant than most photography related sites. If you are interested in becoming a better photographer, check out Project 52 Pros.

Thanks for visiting.

1 Comment

  1. Great down and dirty tutorial. Thanks for sharing!