Diffusing Summer Sunlight for Perfect Portraits PART ONE

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The summer season is a great time to shoot portraits on-location and take advantage of good weather and ample natural light. However, summer sunlight tends to be very bright with the best times to shoot being first thing in the morning and as the sun is setting in the evening. If you are forced to shoot in the middle of the day, there are some easy things you can do to tame bright sunlight.

For this shoot our schedules forced my team to work between 12pm and 4pm when the sun was directly overhead. This bright overhead angle resulted in high contrast light with unflattering shadows below the nose, chin and brow bone. To solve this problem you can choose to shoot in open shade but my favorite solution is to continue shooting in full sun but to diffuse the light with an overhead scrim. In the set-up shot below you can see the Photoflex 77×77″ LitePanel Kit set up above our model, Kayla. I love this kit because it is easy to set up and move around as you work. Rather than using velcro which can catch on wardrobe and be a pain to set up, this LitePanel kit uses elastic corners to quickly secure the fabric in place.

As you can see from the examples below, the diffusion turned pretty much unusable light into a soft and flattering effect. The reduced contrast also created less separation between the subject and the background for a more balanced exposure.

For the next look we wanted to take advantage of the tiny booming daisies in the field so we placed the LitePanel over a nice area and had Kayla sit on the grass. Another reason that I favor this LitePanel is that the large size allows your subject to move around and have freedom to pose while still remaining in the flattering light.

As the shoot went on the sun dipped a bit and was at a better angle in the sky but was still too bright and contrasty. Below is another example of the light before and after diffusion.

The last shot was done as a beauty image to show off the hair, makeup and jewelry. The diffused light looked very nice but I wanted to brighten Kayla’s skin tone without effecting the rest of the exposure so I added a 32″ MultiDisc Reflector, using the white surface. The reflector was placed directly in front of Kayla at a slight angle to bounce light into her face and add another catchlight to her eyes. This also helped with undereye circles, reducng the time spent retouching. This technique can also be done with a soft gold reflector for a warmer effect.

All in all the 77×77″ LitePanel Kit ensured that our midday shoot was a success. I hope that this lesson inspires you to tackle midday sun with confidence. Part 2 of this lesson is available here.

Written and photographed by Laura Tillinghast.

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