Dealing with harsh direct sunlight – no flash

There is really no “bad” light. There is just light that works for your purposes or does not. Here is an approach when working with harsh direct sunlight.

I took this image on a project in Spain. The shadows tell the story, as they usually do; razor sharp, which puts the time of day near midday; no clouds to filter it and soften the light. This light is great for revealing texture and strength. It helps create sense of design too.

You can see the light carving out her leg muscle. The shadow, by falling onto the white stucco is softened; it does not wind up being as black as it would on a darker surface. Direct light like this increases the contrast of an image. You can see this in the dark of her hair, nearly no separation. I had her head titled just a little so the light could skim it and gives us some highlight detail.

We picked this particular black lingerie outfit for a good reason. I wanted it for the tie in with the black rod and to balance out the light tones. The trick is its shear so the direct light illuminates the skin behind the fabric, stopping the outfit fro going featureless black.

The real challenge with this light is the face. Its to bright for her eyes to open, the best she could do would be a squint, which is unattractive. In these lighting your options are to close her eyes and tilt the face upwards so the light carves out face features. It creates a bliss type of emotion to the image.

You can put sunglasses on her. This can give the images a sense of danger or a blingy celebrity feel to it. You can also tilt her head down so the brows cast a shadow into the eye sockets giving the image a hooded, mysterious feel; it adds drama to the image.

We did not just tilt her face up though; I had her arch her whole body to the light. This trimmed up her waist, gave her body language the same story as her face language. The shooting up from a low angle enhanced this.

Minor touches to notice, her arms are active, she is lifting herself slightly up so the bum starts to round up. The bonus is with the muscles active the cross lighting of the sun now works for us and accentuates the muscles. You can see her heels are raised and both toes are pointed. This gives the model a more graceful flow while making the legs look longer.

You may also notice the image is nearly cut in diagonal with the heavy busy part of the image in the lower part while the open counter color of the sky is nearly empty. This gives the image balance.

If you like exotic light, take a look at our Revealing Venus- Italy workshop for photographers.


Mark Laurie map, spa, FellowPPOC
Mark is a photographer, instructor and writer. His 35 yr old Calgary based studio specializes in photographing women. Mark has had his own TV show, written 3 books plus 4 limited edition books. His Revealing Venus experience workshops run out of Italy.