How to Take Amazing Portraits in Sun Every Time

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This is a Guest Post by Susan Black. She is a Tampa Wedding Photographer and specializes in Tampa Senior Pictures.
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Do you want to take perfectly illuminated portraits of outdoor subjects in bright sunlight? How about in situations where they’re standing in front of a bright background? Do you hate dark shadowed “raccoon eyes?” The answer to make your outdoor portraits pop, is to expose for the sky. Use this tip to make the shot every time!

Using a SLR 35mm autofocus camera and flash, you can create flattering and dramatic outdoor portraits with ease.


With the flash turned off and your camera set in manual mode, use the camera’s internal exposure metering system. Looking through the viewfinder, press the shutter button halfway to illuminate the internal panel. The exposure meter is generally in the center on the bottom as you look through the viewfinder. (-2…1…0…1…+2)

To make the adjustments, start by selecting either your f stop or shutter speed. Aim the camera towards the brightest part of the picture, in this case the sky. Using the meter as a guide, adjust your shutter speed and f stop until reading is centered at 0. With the exposure set, turn on your camera’s flash, stand within a normal flash exposure range (6 – 10 ft.), focus on your subject and shoot.

Your flash will fill in and illuminate your subject nicely. If you desire more or less exposure on your subject, step forward or backwards accordingly. Some flash units can also be adjusted manually to allow shorter or longer bursts. This is also an option.

Very important, — always pay attention to the changing light. The sun going behind a cloud while you are shooting can affect the results of your image. The sky is no longer as bright as when the full sun was exposed so you will need to check your exposure meter again for the change in light.

Last, but certainly not least, be kind to your subject, don’t have them facing so they are looking directly into the bright sunlight. They will appreciate it and it will help to avoid squinty, closed looking eyes.


The image examples below were shot using a Canon 5D Mark II and Speedlight 580 EXII mounted on camera. The lens – 28-135 3.5-5.6 IS.

Photograph 1, was shot using the camera’s internal exposure meter as a guide. ISO was set at 100, f/13 the aperture with a focal length of 135mm. The meter centered at 0 at 1/125 of a second for the shutter speed. Here’s the result:


Photograph 2, shows the camera aimed toward the bright sky behind my subject, adjusting the shutter speed and f stop until the camera’s internal meter was perfectly centered at 0 . This recorded at 1/400 sec, f/13, ISO 100, 135mm. Here’s the result:


Photograph 3, the exposure meter was set for the sky, flash turned on, aim, focus and fire. Here’s the result:


Sum it up: 1/400 sec, f/13, ISO 100, 135mm with on camera flash. Pretty Blue sky, white billowy clouds, nicely illuminated subject…that’s a wrap!

8 Responses to How to Take Amazing Portraits in Sun Every Time

  1. andrea scott says:
    perfectly explained – I am forwarding this to a couple of friends that have just started with their dSLR’s – they will love this!
  2. Pam Rauber says:
    Here is the only problem with the results. The flash shows in his glasses and my eyes were immediately drawn to the white spots.
    Instead of using flash, how about increasing your exposure. The background may be blown out but the face will show up slightly. More so, if the hat is removed but then you have to deal with “hat hair”.
    Here is an example
    This was a bright sunny day and I just pointed right up to the face and kept increasing the exposure until I got this shot. To improve upon it, I changed to black and white. I came up with this idea because so many people are taking black and white these days. I learned to increase the exposure by reading the EXIF on photos posted on flickr.
    All that aside, if you prefer using flash why not point the flash head at a 45 degree angle instead of straight into the face. The flash won’t show up in the glasses but still light up the face. I learned this in Charleston, SC watching professionals take photos of brides in the bright sun.
  3. Photographer says:
    Thanks for posting this, as I’m sure it will be useful to many people out there. The more you know and prepare yourself, the better off you’ll be.
  4. I was searching for digital photography when I found your site. Excellent post. Thank You.
  5. CB says:
    Good pointers, basic flash technique all should know!

    To Pam, (above):
    The whole point of this technique is to keep detail in the sky. If you do not like the flash in the glasses, Photoshop works wonders but even more simplisticly, use an off camera flash so the flash comes from a direction other than straight on (from the camera).

    Also, pointing the flash head to 45 degrees does not solve the problem. If ANY part of the flash head can be seen by the subject, then some light is still going directly from the flash head, to the glasses (and back to the camera).

  6. Good pointers, will remember your flash pointers and hopefully my kids’ photos will turn out better! thanks :)
  7. Uresh Kuruhuri says:

    Hi… your point makes sense as well. I often try with increasing or decreasing exposure to avoid reflecting light but to get the desired output..

    I concur to your point as well.

  8. Brian Harte says:
    A nice brief introduction to using flash and getting to know your equipment.

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