How to take beautiful portraits in midday even in direct sunlight is what this blog article is about! I show you the ideal camera settings for photos in the blazing sun and how to avoid green cast in your photos.
Photos in direct sun: aperture f/2.5, 1/1250 sec, ISO 100 (Nikon D800, 35mm/1.8 full frame)
Sometimes it can’t be avoided. You are outside with your child, have the camera with you and want to capture a beautiful moment. But your kid is playing in the bright sun and the direct light from above creates unsightly harsh contrasts. What is the best way to deal with it? Basically there are 2 strategies you can use.
In my opinion, the best strategy is to shoot with back light. If you can’t, take the situation as it is and photograph your child with the direct sun on their face. How to handle both situations best, I will show you now.
Photos at noon: aperture f/2.5, 1/1250 sec, ISO 100 (Nikon D800, 35mm/1.8 full frame)
This shoot with two little boys took place in the blazing midday sun. Actually, I always avoid taking photos in the direct midday sun. When the sun is lower, the light is softer, which is much better for children and family photos. But here it could not be avoided due to unfavorable circumstances.
► Tip 1. Photograph against the sun
If it is somehow possible, I would recommend to photograph your child first against the sun, i.e. with back light!
If you photograph it from the front, hard shadows appear on the face and many cameras have difficulties to expose a photo with strong contrasts correctly, especially in automatic mode.
You can find my top tips for shooting backlit photos in this blog article: 5 Pro tips for backlit portraits
► Tip 2. Photograph in (half) shadow!
I know you don’t always have control over where the kids are playing and where the perfect moment for a photo presents itself. But sometimes you can ask the kids to play 1 to 3 meters to the left or right (in the shade of a tree or bush) and that can make a huge difference for your child photo! Luckily there were a few birch trees on this shoot that provided some shade.
Photographing in the sun: aperture f/2.5, 1/1600 sec, ISO 250 (Nikon D800, 50mm/1.4 full frame)
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► Tip 3. Pay attention to bright, reflective surfaces in front of your photo subject!
If you photograph children near a green tree or on a green lawn, they often have a greenish face in the photos. When the sun shines directly on the green tree or lawn, the green color is reflected back onto the child’s face. This doesn’t look so nice and correcting the skin tones in Lightroom is no fun either.
You can avoid this by making sure that the green area next to the child is also in the shade or a little further away from the child. In the photos above, I made sure that the two are not too close to the tree.
In addition, I was very lucky with this photo location, because there was almost no green grass on the light sandy paths. So the bright ground acted as a natural reflector, reflecting neutral bright light back onto the faces (instead of green light).
If your child sits on a big bright blanket on a green meadow, this blanket becomes a reflector, just like the bright ground at my shooting.
Avoid green casts: Aperture f/2.2, 1/1600 sec, ISO 160 (Nikon D800, 50mm/1.4 full frame)
Here is another example. On the left picture you can’t really see it, but also here we took a picture in the midday sun and behind the two the sun was hitting the green lawn. So I took the family photos at the only shady place I found, next to these roses on the wall of the house. Just in front of them the lawn ended and a bright footpath began, reflecting a wonderful soft, bright light back onto the dad and his son.
How I made the two of them laugh? I asked the dad to pretend to drop his son. The little one thought this was hilarious and was able to take lots of happy pictures of them.
I cropped the image very tightly for two reasons: First, I wanted to capture the emotions from very close up. On the other hand, I wanted to make the green plastic tarp on the neighbor’s property disappear behind the two of them.
► Tip 4. Shoot in RAW format and/or in black and white!
Sometimes you can’t avoid a green cast or you only notice that the faces are green when you look through the pictures on your computer at home. A green cast is then best corrected in Lightroom using the Temperature and Toning sliders in the Basic Settings, as well as the Partial Toning and Color panels. But it is important here that you have taken your pictures in RAW format beforehand!
If you shot only in JPG format, you can still save your children’s photos by simply converting them to black and white.
Aperture f/1.8, 1/8000 sec, ISO 250 (Nikon D800, 35mm/1.8 full frame)
But what do you do if there is no backlight option at all?? If you would have only the back of the head on the photo with backlight, but you would like to photograph your child from the front, sun or not .
► Tip 5. Better to underexpose than overexpose!
Whether your child is in partial shade, as in this shot, or in direct sunlight, never overexpose your photo at all! Further down you can see that I have exposed the original picture a bit too dark (i.e. under-)exposed.
A too dark photo can easily be lightened in Lightroom. But if you overexpose a photo, i.e. much too bright, these bright areas are "lost" and you also don’t get them back in the image processing. This is very annoying especially when you overexpose the faces.