The weather was gorgeous and the fields were alive with color, so my sister asked me out for an impromptu photoshoot. While the prospect was very exciting, I faced a bit of a creative challenge. As it happens, direct sunlight and wide open spaces have always been my nemesis when it comes to portraiture. I love shade and the soft light it gives, and I love the trees and the character they bring to a background. But out in the fields at mid-afternoon, there’s no shade, and no trees in sight.
What I discovered during this shoot was that harsh light can be very appealing when used correctly. It brings depth and gives a sense of brightness that you can’t get with soft light. The key is to watch your shadows and make sure your subject isn’t squinting. I found that keeping the sun off to the side (short lighting) or slightly behind my subject (rim lighting) resulted in the most pleasing shots. Below is an illustration of this point:
Wide open spaces offer very little for the subject to interact with. There aren’t any stumps to sit on, or trees to wrap their arms around. Helping your subject looked engaged and comfortable in their environment can be tricky. Sometimes this can be accomplished by adding a little energy to the shoot.
A fun first-time tactic that I employed on this shoot was the “spin-and-smile”. I had my subject do a full 360 spin and come to a stop pointed in my direction. This added energy to the image (see top photo), and also brought out the real smiles. I’ve also found that running back and forth or having your subject turn their head quickly in your direction can create energy and encourage genuine expressions.
Take advantage of the nice weather while it’s here. Go out and do some shooting, and find some other creative ways to use sunlight and open spaces to your advantage!
Here are some of my other favorites from the shoot: