Using the Sun for A Hairlight: Some Variations

Jasmin on the stairs with a bare strobe for main and the sun for a hair light

The sun is a wonderful light source as we all know. It provides hard, direct light, diffused light, bounce light… heck, it’s an allover lighting machine. There are many ways to use the sun for main light and fill, but today we are going to look at a few ways to use it for a hair light or rim light.

You can use it in a natural light situation and with big strobes, with bounce and with speedlights. It is a constant light source and so it can be carefully controlled. Yes, those cloudy days when it goes in and out can be a pain, but mostly it is pretty easy to manage.

Our first image shows Stephanie on a location shoot we did recently. Early morning light was coming at a very nice angle. I made an exposure reading for the side light and added a little fill for the face. I exposed for the face in this image which of course rendered the sunlight a little overexposed. That is OK for a shot like this. The backlight should look rich and have a feeling of being a bit brighter than the main… that is what makes it a backlight.

Care was take with Stephanie to make sure that her face was always in the shadow side of her hair. Keeping her hair blocking the direct sun meant that there was no little streaks on her nose or cheeks. I personally do not like those little hot spots on the sides of noses and cheeks and lips. It looks bad to me, especially on a still image. My eye always goes right to it. If you inform your model to keep her face out of the light, most will work with you easily.

Using the Sun for a Hair Light on Lighting Essentials, A Place for Photographers

Below is a closer shot. In this case the open sky behind me and the very bright weeds to Stephanies front and side provided all the main light I needed. There is no lighting added to the shot at all. She has simply worked with me to keep her nose out of the direct light. I exposed for the face in this photograph.

Using the Sun for a Hair Light on Lighting Essentials, A Place for Photographers

The shot below was taken with the fill from a large building to camera left. The white building is being blasted by the sun and is providing wonderful light. Taking the model into the sunlight gave me some great backlight on her hair. I had Kymmy throw her head and hair around in the wind and caught some wonderful movement. I love wind sometimes.

Again, I took a reading from her face toward the camera. I made sure that no light from the direct sun was on the meter. If the sun gets to the face of the meter (the ball on the incident meter) it will give you a bad reading. I shot the reading from the face and let the sun exposure fall where it may. Personally I love the feeling of the powerful backlight, as it gives the image a warmth that is hard to imitate.

Using the Sun for a Hair Light on Lighting Essentials, A Place for Photographers

Detroit model Stacia was in the same light as the previous shot, but this time we brought in a small bounce source to lighten up the face and the clothes. By doing so we lowered the contrast of the shot. We brought the exposure ranges closer together so the hair light is not as bright in relationship to the face, as it is in the picture of Kymmy above. This was a very small amount of fill.

Using the Sun for a Hair Light on Lighting Essentials, A Place for PhotographersUsing the Sun for a Hair Light on Lighting Essentials, A Place for Photographers

Below we find Stephanie leaning on a fence post with morning sun over her shoulder. Subtle, but the little bit of light on her head helps ‘ground’ the image and give it a place in the light. Dramatic portrait with only open sky for main light and a strong morning light over shoulders for the separation. Yes, I know what I said above about that little patch of light… well, sometimes, not often, but sometimes it can be kind of effective in giving the image a cinematic feel.

Using the sun for a hairlight on Lighting-essentials.com. a place for photographers

Our last shot is one from the Mexico workshop. We had Jasmin on the stairs with heavy backlight. The bright walls added lots of fill, but we wanted a more ‘lit’ look to the shot. Adding a speedlight on a stand just out of camera and to camera right was the answer. In this case, we let the sun be a bit brighter than our main so we could keep the feeling of the bright back light. Simple to do this type of shot.

Take a meter reading of the background (just let the light hit the ball on your incident meter). You could use the F16 Rule (f-16 at 1/ISO) if you wanted, and on a sunny day you will be right in line with the F16 rule.

Let’s say that the reading is f-16 at 1/100 of a second. Great. Now all we have to do is bring our light in to a point where we can get f-11.5 or so to keep the background bright. F-11.5 is one half stop less light than the f-16 so if we shoot at 11.5, we are letting the f-16 sunlight be a half stop overexposed. We knew that at 1/4 power and about 7feet we would get somewhere in the very close neighborhood of f-11.5. Place strobe, test shot, adjust and shoot.

Using the sun for a hair light on lighting-essentials.com

The sun is a wonderful source. Using it for a hair light or a rim light can be a lot of fun. Adding some fill cards, reflectors or a little flash can make the shot have a feeling of freshness. Enjoy.

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About 

I am in love with light.

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 Amherst Media (available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble: keyword 'don giannatti'. Lighting Essentials is my flagship blog and ezine with a slightly different slant than most photography related blogs. If you are interested in becoming a better photographer, check out www.project52.org. Thanks for visiting.

1 Comment

  1. What aperture and shutter speed combination was used on the first two photos? By the way, this is such a great site. Keep up the good work, I always reference this page!

    Reply

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