Photographing Portraits in the Sun

One of the biggest challenges photographing weddings can be shooting in the middle of the day with lighting that is far less than ideal. Sometimes you are photographing in open sun without any shade and have to find just the right way to get an amazing shot. I always think of it as one of the best challenges with weddings that really gets my artistic juices going. One thing I love to do in this type of situation is to use the sun only as a backlight to create a soft and romantic feel to the shot. I want the glow of the sun to just radiate in the image and the overall focus of the image is going to be that soft and romantic feel to it. I won’t use any bounce light or flash to light the Bride and Groom so they will be a little soft also. I’ll let the sun be a strong backlight that gets a little blown out and the person I am shooting is only lit by whatever ambient light is bouncing back onto them. Here is an example from a recent wedding:

portrait photography in backlit sun

The most important part about getting a image like this is your exposure. If you just let your camera average out the exposure the bride and groom will be very dark. This is because the camera averages out the scene. With the very bright background as a predominant part of the image, your camera meter will get tricked and the exposure will be off. You can use a lightmeter to read the light falling onto the scene or normally I will take a quicker route. For me the fastest way to get a accurate exposure is to zoom in on your subject face and see what settings your camera gives you. Then set your camera to manual and dial in those settings. Now you will be properly exposing for your subject. Based on the tone of their skin though you will have to adjust the exposure. Since our cameras meter everything for 18% grey, if your subjects skin tone is very light or dark it will not get the exposure right. Take that into consideration when setting your exposure on manual and remember to take a test shot first to gauge the exposure. In this image I knew that I wanted to shoot at 2.8 so in Aperture priority I set the camera to f/ 2.8 and zoomed in on the brides face to get the shutter speed, which was 1/1250 second. I changed my camera over to manual and set it to 1/1250 @ 2.8 and was ready to shoot. This gave me the correct exposure on them and while the background was slightly blown out and bright that can be burned in during the post processing.

Since the main light is so strong and coming from behind them, the light on the bride and groom is pretty flat. You could add a flash off camera if you wanted them to be defined better and also have a more dynamic light. This really changes the feel of the image though, you loose that glow around them and the overall soft feel to the shot. To see what effect a flash has on a image with the sun as a backlight, check out this post: adding flash to a backlit sun photo.

The exact angle of the sun and where you are will play a pretty big factor in the look of the shot. The lower the sun and more your camera is facing towards it the more lens flare you will get. Experiment a little bit with your angle to see how that effects the shot, the best way to get a shot like this is try, try, try. The more you experiment the more you will know where to position yourself for the shot you are looking for!
If you have any great sun backlit shots leave us a link in the comments!

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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. Making Your Portraits During the Day POP | Digital Photo Buzz - [...] to photograph. If you want more info on using the sun as a backlight check out these past articles…

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