Light is everything in photography, and believe it or not you can find beautiful light absolutely anywhere you go!
So what is good light? That depends on your preference. Personally I love really soft glowing natural light. The type of light you will find on a super cloudy afternoon. But what do we do if its not cloudy outside? Well you have a choice; A: search for Open Shade, B: Diffuse the Sun, or C: Wait for it to get cloudy. Now we don’t want you to use option C, because it involves not shooting photos..
Option A: Open Shade. What exactly is open shade? This is a particularly shady area where you are standing in shade, but you can see sunlight above you. I personally love the open shade look because you are using the world around you as your sun diffusor! The sunlight is bouncing around everything surrounding you, but not hitting you directly, creating a very beautiful, soft,natural light that will flatter just about everything you stick in there! To the rights I’ve added a cell phone snapshot decent example of an open shade area. Check out the shady area towards the right side of the image. You can stand in the shade, but still see mostly blue sky above you. If you would have stood in the sunny area next to the silo on the left of the image you would battle pretty harsh shadow edges and a squinty eyed model! Two very different looks in one easy location! The most important thing you could do at this point is play around with both types of light and see which fits your model and shooting style the best.
Option B: Diffuse the Sun. This is a little bit trickier, but effective non the less. You will need some form of diffusion panel or sheet. Most camera stores sell reflectors that are either translucent or have a translucent interior. A thin white bed sheet (or scrim, like this 6’6′ option with stand) will work as well if you build a frame for it. All we want to do is block some of the sun, not all of it. Obviously the larger the diffusion panel the better because the shade will cover more of your subject! There are a couple downsides to Option B though. The first being you will have to have someone hold the diffuser for you, or you will have to buy/build a stand for it. Secondly the background will be over exposed if it remains in full sunlight. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just be careful! Also be careful if you have a stand for your diffusor, any little breeze will catch the diffusor and send it sailing like a kite! Not good if it flies off in the direction of your talent. Black eyes and bruises are no good. (If you are doing this full time, please look into insurance that covers both your client and yourself in the event of an accident! I use State Farm)
One way to judge if the light from Open Shade or a Diffused Sun is good quality is to use your hand. Hold out your hand with fingers straightened and rotate slowly, you will see the light fall into the little crevices between your fingers and into your palm and make little shadows. Are these shadows hard or soft? For the Open Shade/Diffused Sun look the softer the better! But it depends on the look you are going for! This technique is crazy simple, but still takes some time to find the best possible location, so don’t give up if success it doesn’t come on the first go around! Play with it, choose different locations, and Keep Shooting!!
-Chris W ‘WhonPhoto’
PS Don’t use Option C.. If its cloudy, fantastic, you have found open shade everywhere! But don’t wait on it to become cloudy to shoot photos.
Here are some Open Shade examples I’ve taken for some of my clients. All outdoor, on location, on a bright sunny afternoon/evening, in open shade.