Tame the Sun for Better Natural Light Portraits With One Tool

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There isn’t a whole lot you can do about the sun sometimes. Of course, you can look for shadow coverage to make shooting in the sun easier. But that is just a workaround that limits you on where you can be. Instead, you should find a way to shoot wherever you want. The key to doing this for natural light portraits is to find a way to soften the sun that hits your portrait subject. And it’s a whole lot easier than you’d think. 

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The Tool

Choose one of these two:

  • Translucent Umbrella for at least 42 inches. We like this option from Westcott.
  • 5-in-1 reflector with a translucent option of at least 36 inches. Try this one from Neewer.

The important thing is that you use the translucent setting. That’s where light can pass through but is diffused.

How to Use It for Natural Light Portraits

This is where it’s pretty simple to do for natural light portraits. So we’re going to walk you through and provide several tips.

  • Shoot with the sun directly hitting your subject. Ideally, try to have the sun in front of your subject or to the side. 
  • Bring up the translucent light modifier. If it’s an umbrella, use it as a fun prop and have your subject hold it. If it’s a reflector, just make sure that it’s blocking all the sunlight hitting your subject’s face.
  • Adjust the modifier so that it’s filling in shadows under your portrait subject’s face and diffusing the light on them.
  • Shoot at a low ISO. Below ISO 100 or ISO 200 are my favorites for situations like this. 
  • This lighting style kills details a bit. So stop your lens down. Otherwise, bring in some silver reflective light if you can. The details being lost are called specular highlights. And they’re often missing from natural light portraits. So, generally speaking, you need a flash if you don’t want a soft look.
  • White balance to daylight. That’s going to make editing less painful later on. You might as well capture all the color information you possibly can to begin with.
  • With translucent modifiers this size, you’re going to be highlighting a person’s upper portion. This is pretty impossible to use for full-body photos. Generally speaking, don’t photograph an area of the person that’s larger than the reflector. That’s why this is so great for the upper portion of a subject.
  • Give your subject breaks. Their eyes are going to get pretty narrow after a while. 
  • Pay attention to where the translucent light modifier is. You may or may not want it to be reflecting in your subject’s eyes.

Film photographers, this is essential for you folks if you want effective lighting. The problem with film often comes with getting the exposure right. So if you use a translucent reflector or umbrella, you’ll get it right. In the photo above, I did this while shooting with Kodak Portra 120. It was only possible because of the translucent umbrella. See how it fills in the shadows? This will be your best friend on a shoot. Trust us!

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.