Photographing in outdoor shade

Not all shade is created equal. Learning to see all of the very intricate differences in light and the quality of light can be one of the best things to learn. I am continually learning to see light in a new way and constantly have to train my brain to see things as the camera would. Shooting a lot of weddings every year I find myself looking for shade often to shoot portraits. But just like I said at the start not all shade is created equal. Before going into what I look for in a shaded area first lets talk about why I shoot in the shade sometimes.

One of the benefits about a nice area of shade for group photos is that you have a consistent light. Everyone in the group is in the same light so you will have a consistent image without someone in a strong shadow or hightlight. With big groups you always have to watch all people to make sure that one person isn’t the only one in the sun and is going to be totally washed out. You can try to block the sun with something but for larger group shots you might not have something big enough to block the sun. So I am always on the hunt for a large area of shade. When looking through I pay close attention to how dense and dark the shade is, sometimes you can have a deep shade that it isn’t really flattering to your subjects. So what to look for when trying to capture a group shot in the shade? There are 2 things that I always try and look for with this type of shot.

One is always a question we should be asking ourselves when shooting. Where is the light coming from? See where the sun is coming from and how that is impacting your shade. The location, angle and strength of the sun will all play a important role in the density of the shade you are in.

What is surrounding the shade? This is so key, what is around you that is impacting the light? If you are outdoors in an urban environment with buildings what is across the street? Is there a huge light colored building that is basking in the sun and bouncing that sunlight back over to your shade to fill everything in? Perfect! Look for opportunities like that where you have large objects nearby that are bouncing light back to you.

In this image there was a fairly small strip of shade. The key that really made the light work was that the sun was overhead and a little bit behind me. It was bouncing down on a really light colored stone that bounced the light back up and into the shade filling in all of the shadows and creating a nice light. A good trick if you are shooting somewhere without a reflective ground surface (like on the grass) is to bring a large white sheet with you. Place it in the sun right before the edge of the shade and let it act as a reflector to bounce light back into the shade.

Do you have any tips on photographing in the shade? Leave us a comment below, lets start a discussion.

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Author: Mark

Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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  1. i like that a sheet in the sun on the edge of the shade !! THANK YOU.


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