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Old 11-27-2002, 11:17 AM   #1
Chris Saper Chris Saper is offline
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Photographing the subject in direct sunlight




Having never done a single commission in which I have even attempted artificial lighting, I rely exclusively on natural daylight for my commission resources. Living in Arizona, where the humidity is rarely above 15%, and where the sky is anything but blue! but for about 8 or 9 days a year, it's a pretty reliable system.

The main variable I work around is the angle of the sun in the sky. At about 30-40 degrees off the horizon, the light generally produces a Rembrandt-like shadow angle. The time of day varies (we don't have Daylight Savings here); toward the summer solstice, I take photos at about 5:30, sometimes as late as 6:30 PM (but it's still 110 degrees that time of summer day). In general, the mornings are brutally bright, too much so for decent photos in direct sunlight. (Also WAY too early in the summer in the morning!) Whatever atmosphere might possibly settle in to mitigate the glare won't be likely to happen until late afternoon, if at all. Toward the winter solstice, I shoot film about 4:00 PM or so. The low humidity and clear skies, however, produce a glare that is at times indescribably blinding, so I spend a lot of time helping my subjects cope with the extreme light.

When I want Rembrandt-type lighting, one of the things that has helped a lot is taking a cue from the guys who shoot ski photos (no doubt familiar to those of you who have ever skied). Position the subject so that the triangle of light on the cheek is where you want it. Have the models close their eyes, and relax the forehead, and the attendant squint that still wants to remain in the brow. Tell them to gently open their eyes on the count of three, and look (wherever you tell them) at the camera, to the right, to the left, etc. Then snap the photo as SOON as they begin to open; it will be before the quint sets in. Do this a half dozen times or so, as the timing of your shutter finger and their eye-opening is uncertain.

Here are a few examples of what I mean. In this first image, you can see how difficult it is to deal with the strong light...and she isn't even in the Rembrandt position yet.
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Old 11-27-2002, 11:18 AM   #2
Chris Saper Chris Saper is offline
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In the second image, everything is ready to go, except for the closed eyes.
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Old 11-27-2002, 11:21 AM   #3
Chris Saper Chris Saper is offline
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In the third image, GOTCHA!
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Old 05-18-2003, 03:32 PM   #4
Michele Rushworth Michele Rushworth is offline
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Here's another tip I found recently about taking portrait shots outdoors in full sun. As Chris mentioned, it's tough except when the sun is low in the sky.

I found a manufacturer of photography lighting equipment that sells a kind of sun screening device, for about twenty dollars, that I plan to buy.

The company is called Photoflex (www.photoflex.com) and they make a whole set of different lightweight flexible fabric disks that can act as reflectors, filters, etc. The one I think will be most useful is the one that is somewhat translucent.

The idea is that you have someone hold it between the subject and the sun as you take the photo. It lets enough of the light through that the person isn't completely shaded, but it blocks enough sun that it removes harsh shadows and squinting. If you don't have an assistant to hold the disk, this company also sells lighting stands (which I have) that you can clip the disk to.

The resulting effect is shown in the before and after photos I've posted.
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