Fun with Girls in Hats

Model Robyn Germyn
Robyn 1 - © Copyright 2011 by William Beem

Let me tell you something about my opinions.  If someone says, “Hey, let's go shoot pictures of pretty girls”, I get pretty happy.  Then if they say we're going to use “natural light – yay!”, it just harshes my buzz. I know some photographers who proudly proclaim that they only shoot in natural light, but it doesn't excite me. Shooting in natural light is just leaving yourself open to chance, rather than taking control. It may be harsh daylight, it may be soft, it may be right above or at another angle.  I'm just not excited by that prospect. So what can you do to depress me even further?  Give the model a hat in natural light.

Now I know you're just screwing with me. Harsh light, uncontrollable direction, and now we're going to put a shadow right across her face to go along with that nose shadow that reaches to her ear.  Is anyone else having fun with this concept yet, or are they just ignoring the light because they're excited to be shooting a model?

Model Robyn Germyn
Robyn 2 - © Copyright 2011 by William Beem

If you can't control the light, then you have to control your subject's orientation to the light. Shadows are useful to define shape, but you don't want them to create lines across your subject. The solution may be as simple as turning her head toward the light slightly, letting the shadows define her face and fall off behind her. Some folks try to solve the problem by moving the position of the camera, but I don't really think that's the best answer.  You can move to a side where the shadow isn't in view, but then you've limited your angle to shoot the subject.  If you ensure that the light is falling properly on your subject, then you can move around a number of angles to get good shots.

Context is also important. Clearly, this is an outdoor shot and people will accept the idea of shadows – to a point. In the first photo, the brim of Robyn's hat cuts a sharp line separating her forehead from the rest of her face, and her nose shadow puts a line under her left eye with too much contrast.  On the second photo, there's still a small line from the brim of her hat.  However, it doesn't cut into her face. You can still see a little catchlight in her eyes from the sun and her features are definable.

Many photographers avoid going out to shoot in midday sun because of the harsh shadows, and I don't really like shooting then, either. It presents more problems, but that doesn't mean you can't manage the problems. We don't always have the luxury of shooting in perfect conditions. You just have to keep an eye on your subject's angle to the sun and and the background. It doesn't hurt to have some fast glass to blur the background, because you never want your viewer to see she was standing around some horse pies.

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