Welcome to installment #2 of Senior Photo Tips. For our newcomers, I am talking through some simple ways to improve your portrait photography skills so that you can take your own senior photos and save some money. If you have not yet read the first post on the subject, I encourage you to do so now. For the rest of you all, let's continue. The topic for the current post is what to do when you are stuck in the sun.

Choose Your Time of Day

Let's start with the simplest solution. Wait it out. If you are making your own schedule, you can probably avoid this problem altogether by choosing a different time to shoot. If you can, consider waiting to shoot until later in the day. The hour before sunset or right after sunrise will produce much more flattering light than the light at midday. This is because the low angle of the sun in the sky will cause your subject to be lit from the side. It simply just looks better. Also, you can't neglect the fact that the light itself is a bit golden and therefore looks warm and amazing.

Lit by the sun at Golden Hour

Man-made Shadows

Now, for those of you who can't wait and need to shoot midday for one reason or another, you can create your own shade. Crazy right? All you need is a big piece of cardboard. By big, we are not talking refrigerator size. No, we are talking about your average Amazon Prime package (something like 18" x 18" would be fine). With something like that, you can create a shadow that is large enough to take a nice headshot. You probably won't be taking a full body shot with this, unless you do have a really large piece of cardboard. Distance and angles are your friend to make the most out of your man-made shadow.

If you have a little bit of a budget, you can up your game by buying something to diffuse the light for under $30. I will talk more about this in a future post. For the moment, just know that instead of a piece of cardboard you could buy a very versatile tool like the 24" 5-in-1 reflector/diffuser shown below.

5-in-1 Diffuser / Reflector


A third way that you can make lemonade out of your hard-light-lemons is to make use of a reflector. By reflector, we are talking about ANYTHING that will reflect light back at the subject. Really anything light-colored or reflective will work. (I don't recommend using mirrors, though.) Reflectors will fill in the shadows and create some directional light on the subject, which typically looks better.

The cover image to this post is a good example of this. There is good lighting on the woman's face, because she is lying down in the water. The sun is reflecting off the sand/water to fill in the shadows that would have been much more prevalent if she had been lying on a black blanket. If you are not at the beach but have a light-colored wall nearby, you could have your subject lean against the wall. Get creative. I actually like to keep a portable white background with me when shooting on location, because it serves this purpose very well. You will find that you will need to position your subject fairly close to the reflector (or vice versa) to make this work. But it does work!

If the cover image does not convince you, my daughter's Beach Barbie volunteered herself for another demonstration. (Apparently we are on a beach theme for this post). Because she was such a good sport on the last post, I thought I would take her up on her generous offer again... Below are two shots taken with a bare strobe overhead of Beach Barbie to mimic the sun at midday. Both images below were taken with the same camera settings. The only difference between the two images is the presence of a white reflector. Look at the difference of the lighting on Barbie's face! Amazing!

Hard light directly overhead (e.g. midday sun)

Hard light directly overhead with a white reflector (e.g. white wall) nearby

Careful of Color Casts!

The only thing that you need to be careful about when using reflected light is that, if the reflector is not white, it will create a color cast on the subject. For example, when I take pictures of my kids in our pool, their faces look a little bluish in color because of the blue pool liner. Likewise, if your subject is standing next to a green wall, they will look a little green. You can make that go away when editing, but it is kind of a pain. So, if possible, stick with white and gray reflectors if possible.

Cover image by Adam Kontor from Pexels.