FAQ: How to Use Sunlight.

Happy June, all!! Now that the weather is warm and lovely and the daylight is lasting longer, I thought I would address another question I am frequently asked…”How do you get the sun to look so glowing and soft in your images?” Now, there is no solution that is 100% the answer, but I will do my best to share what works for me and how I “harness” natural sunlight in my images! Below are a few tricks that I employ to make sure I get use sunlight to my advantage and provide my clients with images that reflect my style! As a natural light photographer, light is everything and knowing how to harness it for my (and my client’s!) benefit is of the utmost importance. I hope this post is helpful and can encourage you to get out and use this gorgeous summer light! Remember, the most important “tip” of all is to keep taking pictures, practicing and learning!! xo

1.) Backlighting 

In my opinion, this is one of the most important tricks when it comes to shooting in natural daylight. Whenever possible, position the subject between you and the sun. This eliminates harsh shadows (as the subject’s face is in the natural shade of their head), and also prevents squinting! :) Plus, the light that works its way around the subject lends itself to that “glowy” effect that I am so attracted to. Here are some examples:


This images shows what NOT backlighting your subject looks like. The sun is behind me and in the face of this little airplane boy. You can see the drastic shadows under his eyes and other features. In a nutshell, the light is harsh and not flattering or soft. Scroll for the alternative…:)

Memorial Day-4976

Even though the sun is still high, I positioned myself in front of the subject as well as the sun (shooting into the light) for this image. This creates more even light on his face and that soft, even glow that I love so much.

2.) Find Open Shade.  

There are times that you cannot avoid shooting during the high, harsh light of mid-day sun. Of course, you can still choose to shoot into the sun, but inevitably, there will be some harshness to the image (or some intense editing required later!). Don’t fret!! There is a solution!! :) Open shade!! Find even shade and position your subjects there! Much of photography is taking control and moving your subject to places where you know the images will be the most flattering and beautiful. No bride will mind walking a few extra steps to stand under a tree to make her wedding portraits free of harsh shadows!

So, as I just hinted, trees can provide a natural source of open shade, as can buildings and/or covered porches! Below are a few examples of how I have used open shade to provide even, flattering light.


We started Erin and Ezra’s portraits as the sun was setting, but still a bit high. As a result, we positioned them under this tree to make sure the light that was available was filtered and soft. The result was so very sweet. :)

Dena and Bill-5236

I loved working with this group of guys!! This is an example of using the shade from a building to provide the soft light that I prefer. This photo required almost zero post-processing (editing) and is one of my favorites!


Here, I captured Liam in the natural shade of the peach trees! (This was just last summer…stop growing little man!!!) Look how much less harsh the shade light is even compared to the sunlight in the background! Huge difference.

Megan & Matt-1505

Ahhhh. A favorite of Megan and Matt. :) The covered entry way of this coffee shop shows yet again, the benefits of open shade!! Find it (it may take a little hunting and creativity but soon you will be seeing it everywhere!) and use it! :)

P.S. If it is a cloudy day, you are in luck! Your whole “world” is open shade! :)

3.) Use the first and last hours of daylight. 

So this last point incorporates a bit of my first tip (backlighting), but the principle is one I base almost ALL of my photo shoots off of. To get the sun flair and backlighting you see in the images below, you must utilize the sun as it is either rising or setting. Why? Because at these two specific times of day, you are able to shoot DIRECTLY into the sun as it is directly opposite you on the horizon (remember, any other time of the day, it is above us!).

Hannah & Graham-2214

Here, you can actually see the sun as it sets, sinking just above the tree line. (Awwww puppy love!!!)

Megan & Matt-1795-3

Last but not least, one of my favorite additions to photos…sunflair. The sun was again setting when I took this photo, so it provided this gorgeous glow. Sighhhh. So dreamy, eh? :)

Because the combination of backlighting and using sunlight as it is on the horizon is so conducive to my style, photo sessions with my clients take place in either the first or last hours of the day. It may be more convenient to get together in the middle of the afternoon, but the superior images are worth getting up early or spending an evening out. Trust me!

I hope this post has been beneficial and encourages you to seek out lovely light, anytime! :) I would love to hear some more FAQ’s, so leave them in the comments and I may just cover your question in the future!



2 thoughts on “FAQ: How to Use Sunlight.

  1. Thanks for the helpful tips, Mary. I am taking a photography course at the moment that backs up what you are saying and it makes a lot of sense. However, that course does not focus on portraits as much so I appreciate your help.

  2. Pingback: FAQ: Taking Pictures in Snow. |

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