Photographers in California all obsess over one thing: “that LIGHT!” And while the sun is a huge asset to making our images warm and golden, it can also be a hinderance. Many times photographers will find themselves in a situation where there is no where to hide- literally! No trees to borrow shade from or tall obstructions to place in front of the sun, and that pesky light is just exploding straight into your lens. This has happened to me when the wedding day portraits need to take place during a less-than-ideal time and even more frequently when I shoot beach sessions. 90% of the time I have my subjects backlit which can mean shooting directly into the sun. At times my camera is not even able to focus because there is too much light, and the resulting image is hazy and not at all sharp.
So let me introduce you to a little trick I made up to help in these situations. I’ll call it “The Disappearing Hand Method!” There are two ways to do it, so stick with me as I try to explain.
#1: Hold up your hand in front of your lens to block the sun. Grab your focus, then then remove your hand. The sun will still be very strong but your subject will be in focus. In editing you will need to up the contrast more than usual but this can be a fun way to add some artistic flare (literally!) to your image set.
In this example I help up my hand and toggled my focus point to the groom, then removed my hand and captured this:
At this engagement session location, I used to couple as a shield from the sun in the majority of my images. I wanted some diversity so I took the shot on the left using my hand as a shield to grab the focus, took the shot, and then moved slightly to the left to grab the second shot where Colton is blocking the sun.
This next example was from an elopement in Joshua Tree. I had Patti and Nolan walk alone so they could be in the moment and shot them at 85mm. They started out in beautiful light (left image) and then their kiss took place in direct sunlight. The middle image is the RAW and the right image is the edit with some contrast and blacks brought back into it. Personally I LOVE images where they feel like they are lost in the light… But that an artistic preference!
#2: Hold up your hand in front of your lens to block the sun and LEAVE IT THERE. (This works best if your hand is “floating” in open sky.) In editing you will be removing your hand. I use this method when it is almost impossible to even see what I am shooting but I cannot change my position.
The following image had the sun at the very top of the frame. If I were taller I might have been able to shoot down on my subject and still maintain even lighting without needing my hand. But I decided to block the sun with my hand and remove it later, achieving even colors and a backlit subject!
In the next two images I was standing on a dock and shooting the bridal party on the next dock. The sun was setting but we didn’t have time to wait for it to hide behind the rock jetty. The image on the left is RAW and on the right is edited. You can see in the first image the subjects are not as sharp and the bridesmaids on the right are almost completely lost in the haze. And in the second image they are all in focus and there is less haze.
I hope my little trick helps you to have some fun and learn to control that crazy California sunlight a bit better! As usual, feel free to leave questions in the comments.