Dramatic Sand Dune Portraits | Embracing Harsh Sunlight

Buttercup Sand Dunes, California


I used to absolutely despise shooting in harsh light.


I do believe that shooting in consistently "ideal" lighting is a great way to fine tune the way you shoot and develop a consistent editing style, but not only is everyday/situation NOT going to be gorgeous, gloomy, diffused light, but you're missing out on SO MUCH by staying comfortable in the shadows. The hardest thing for me when I started diving into intentionally shooting on bright, clear days was the simplest and yet MOST IMPORTANT detail...


- feeling confident in lighting my subject -

LIGHTING


DIRECT:


ALL IN. Think eyes squinting, bold colors and crisp detail.

I typically like to get creative and keep my subject moving, which can create beautiful fluidity in the composition, while not making them stare into the sun and cry.


SIDE:


MY JAM. This is where your exposure really counts. I mean it ALWAYS counts...but with bright highlights and dark shadows, you don't want to lose any details. Or you do...and hell...you do you.


I typically lean toward underexposing kind of all the time, so with side lighting I make sure that the highlights are a click under where I'm going to want them in post. Then it's all about softening those shadows without losing depth.


This is where I have the most fun experimenting in post to get the perfect contrast and deepened tones.


BACKLIT:


Probably one of the easiest transitions into direct light, since basically you're shooting your subject IN IT'S OWN SHADOW. If you're a fan of sun flares, dispersed light and low contrast...this is your jam.


I'm not the biggest fan of flares bursting across my images, but if you take your time and learn how to play with different angles, you'll be surprised at the diversity you can create with even the most MINOR of tweaks. It's a little rare for me, but you can check out some heavily sun-flared images here.