Shooting Outdoor Portraits on Sunny Day

by | Jul 29, 2020

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

Exposure Techniques Week continues with a look at shooting outdoor portraits on sunny days…

According to the Current Results website that summarizes published data and research papers on weather, wildlife and the environment, the Denver area has 300 sunny days a year. By comparison, Miami in the “Sunshine State” has 248. The US average is 205 sunny days.

The classic way of exposing images on sunny days is the famous Sunny 16 rule. The concept is based on using a lens aperture of f/16 and the shutter speed closest to the ISO number. If your camera is set at ISO 125, the sunlight exposure would be 1/125th of a second at f/16.

Modern camera technology has relieved us of any guesswork methods for checking exposure under most common lighting situations, including sunny days. The ability to tweak exposure with today’s cameras can make or break your image quality. I’m astounded at the number of people who don’t care about correct exposure, saying, “I’ll just fix it later in Photoshop.” You can use digital darkroom techniques but I only use them when I make mistakes. I firmly believe that the best photographs are going to be made from the best possible exposed images.

The problem with making portraits on sunny days and the biggest mistake many photographers make is having the subject face the sun. Their idea is that this pose will put the most light on the subject and while that may be true the problem it also produces world class squints and nobody except Clint Eastwood looks good when squinting. I prefer to have the subject relax and turn her back to the sun and use fill flash to illuminate her face. When used correctly this fill flash won’t look out of place and can add a little sparkle to the subject’s eyes.

How I made this shot: Y’amie is a sports fan and was photographed on a bright, sunny day on the grounds of a recreation center and I used the bleacher stands in the background to add the right sporting touch. Camera used was a Canon EOS 50D with Tamron 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD lens (at 87mm.) It was made on the kind of day that the little slip of paper Kodak packs with the film says is 1/125 sec at f/16 but was made here with an exposure of 1/200 sec at f/14 at ISO 400, with fill from the camera’s built-in flash. And if you think using a big reflector might have been a better choice, you’re probably right. And if I had an assistant that day, I probably would have done just that.

If you’re interested in learning how I shoot  available light glamour portraits, please pick up a copy of Available Light Glamour Photography which is available new from for $20.13 with used copies starting at $17.49, as I write this. The Kindle version is $16.99 for those preferring a digital format.