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Making direct sunlight NOT look harsh.

I see photographers using direct sunlight often. The danger with direct sunlight is that it is a relatively small light source. As such, it creates harsh shadows on the face. Generally, the sun is too high in relation to the subjects face. It is high up in the sky after all...

The two problems with the sun being so high is:

  1. It makes the eye sockets look deep and dark. This is fine if you're wanting to create an ominous picture but isn't helpful with most portraits.

  2. The nose shadow is usually too long. This long shadow will "cut up" a person's face and make their nose appear larger than it is.

Here are some examples of what I'm talking about. These aren't flattering in my opinion.

This can be fixed by really paying attention to the subject's nose shadow. I basically use his or her nose shadow as a "sundial." I make sure that my subjects' faces are position so their nose shadows are "tight" around their noses. In other words, I don't want their nose shadow to be long.

You keep the nose shadow small and tight around the nose, it will prevent the nose shadow being too long and chopping up the face. It will also prevent your subject's eyes looking deep and recessed.

Frankly, the nose shadow is the one facial feature that is "sharp." The other curves of the face (cheeks, forehead, chin) are less sharp. Even in direct sunlight, their rounded shape prevents the shadows they create from looking harsh.

In the illustration below, I'm demonstrating how keeping the harsh nose shadow tight can prevent direct sunlight from looking harsh. Notice how the forehead and cheek shadow are soft.

I hope that this helps you use direct sunlight effectively. Again, rely on the nose shadow as your guide. Keep it tight next to your subject's nose!


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