View Full Version : How do I deal with harsh, front on sunlight that makes people squint

15-07-2010, 8:53am
Hey all

I don't have any example pics here with my on my work computer, but I'd love to know how to tackle harsh, very bright, front on sunlight when taking portrait photos.

Background to this:
I was asked to do some family portraits on a lookout that is over the ocean. Having the ocean and beach below was essential, and the only way to do this was to have the subjects looking at me as the sun was right behind me at the time. Because it was so bright they were all squinting. My only option at the time was to tell them to close their eyes, and I counted to 3. When I reached 3 they open, I take the shot...and everything looked normal and fine.

I want to be prepared for this sort of situation next time. What would you suggest?

I could have told them to their heads slightly and I move a bit so the sun wasn't so direct, but I then suffered from harsh shadows on the face. Fill flash to fix this? Or a light reflector?


I @ M
15-07-2010, 8:59am
If it is a spur of the moment sort of shoot then there aren't too many options other than the close the eyes and count to 3 method.
If it is a planned shoot, take 4 strong assistants and a large enough sun blocking device and put the subjects in the shade. Shower curtain material works well, lets light through but blocks the glare and stops squinting. A little fill flash may be needed after depending on the shade factor etc. but it really is the best option.

15-07-2010, 11:06am
your best option would have been to nominate the time of day i.e. early morning or late afternoon. Being a formal portrait you could use a slower exposure to still let you capture the scenery (with beatiful colours) but also have natural facial expressions , a bit of fill flash may be necessary for the people. If you can't arrange the time then 'artificial shade' is the other best option. Most of those folding "5in1" reflectors have a translucent white core which could be enough (if it's reasonably large and/or shooting a small family) held just out frame.


15-07-2010, 11:20am
I think a nice backlit shot with a clean but unspectacular background is better than a nice background with harsh sun and squinty eyes

19-07-2010, 12:17pm
Something I've seen been done while at places getting photo's done. Have the people close their eyes and open them on the count of 3 then you quickly take a shot.

22-07-2010, 7:00pm
Similar to Woofie, if you are unable to move them to a location to get them out of the direct sun, or a different angle, then I get them to close their eyes & I tell them on the count of 3 to "open their eyes", "look at the camera" & "smile". I find it works nearly every time. Make sure you get them to look away or close their eyes again before the next shot. I have had it work with individuals, couples & groups.

07-08-2010, 3:17pm
TheScroop ..the only way to do this was to have the subjects looking at me as the sun was right behind me at the time.

It's good you've asked about alternatives, Scroop.
The count to three approach is a mindless & dangerous practice. Never have people looking directly into the sun when you have them open their eyes. Four or five shots of suddenly opening your eyes, directly into the sun, will damage the retina. Doing it once is enough to do damage. Squinting in bright light is the brain's natural reaction to protecting the retina.

from wikipedia

The retina is a complex, layered structure with several layers of neurons interconnected by synapses. The only neurons that are directly sensitive to light are the photoreceptor cells (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photoreceptor_cell). These are mainly of two types: the rods (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rod_cell) and cones (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cone_cell). Rods function mainly in dim light and provide black-and-white vision, while cones support daytime vision and the perception of colour. A third, much rarer type of photoreceptor, the photosensitive ganglion cell (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photosensitive_ganglion_cell), is important for reflexive responses to bright daylight.
Neural signals from the rods and cones undergo complex processing by other neurons (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuron) of the retina. The output takes the form of action potentials (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Action_potential) in retinal ganglion cells (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retinal_ganglion_cell) whose axons (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axon) form the optic nerve (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optic_nerve). Several important features of visual perception (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_perception) can be traced to the retinal encoding and processing of light.


07-08-2010, 3:40pm
I always carry my reflector with me in the car (a flip out gold/silver), and I might have tried fill flash too. But plan to avoid the situation is the best way to go if possible.

07-09-2010, 3:03pm
Count to three method is best IMHO.
It usually causes your subjects eyes to moisten too, so the end result is ‘sparkly’ eyes. I sometimes get models to do it regardless of if they’re staring into the sun…