One of the great mistakes people make when taking photos is to look out the window and think, “Great it’s sunny, lets go outside and get some shots.” Bright sunshine is actually the worst lighting for portraits. It can of course be done and done well, but unless you have pro lighting and several assistants it’s not going to be easy. But what if you don’t have a choice?
Obviously it’s not something you can avoid forever. Some location or situation is going to be bathed with bright hard sunlight and you still want to get a photo. One such occasion for me was at the Nagoya Zoo & Botanic Garden. The zoo was the main attraction for our daughter but it was hot - both temperature and light hot. That meant high contrast, shiny foreheads, squinty faces, shadows under the eyes and blown highlights in the background. Add to that the fact that my daughter mostly wanted to play on the rides which were dilapidated Hello Kitty cars. It didn’t make for a classic photo that I would have proudly called mine. Naturally I took some snaps of her to show her riding her first bumper car but I still wanted a nice portrait.
Shade is your Friend
In this situation it’s best to shoot in the shade. There are few better lighting options for beautiful skin tones than shade on a sunny day. But the zoo had very little cover and none of it was in an attractive location. There is a rather small botanic garden attached to the zoo the main feature of which is a small glass house. I love glass houses and it provided a beautiful backdrop and filtered sunlight to capture my wife and daughter.
This shot is not representative of our holiday or even that day but it is my favourite part of that day and a great memory. I don’t mind that I didn’t get great photos of the zoo trip itself, I have other zoo photos. But I’m glad I came away from that day with this one great memory of the fun we had rather than dozens of disappointing snaps taken in bad lighting. Quality is always better than quantity.