Photographers! Check out this crash course to open share!

Just What, Exactly, is Open Shade?

What is open shade? What difference will knowing make on your photography?  Lots. (as in, get ready to have your next a-ha! moment)

everything you ever wanted to know about open shade Of course, it’s not just about understanding what open shade is – the secret is in knowing how to use it, how to craft it.

First, understand what open shade is, what it means:

Very simply, open shade is that sweet spot between sun and shade, just inside the shade…facing the light. Why just inside the shade?  Because you want your subject to be illuminated by light, but not actually in the light. Go too far into the shade and everything becomes flat, colour casts become more apparent and your subject looks dull and lifeless.  Go too far into the light and your subject may squint, have harsh shadows and blown highlights. Why face the light?  Because that’s how the beautiful portraits are created. There are three key factors for flattering portrait light:  Open shadows, beautiful catch-lights and brightly lit faces. That’s why simply being in open shade isn’t good enough.  If you aren’t facing the right direction, open shade is actually ugly.

Open shade explained at Photographers Connection.  Kelly Tuohey Back to Basics on photography

Forgive the dirty face and messy hair. These are quickie iPhone images I snapped while playing around with “open shade”

Open shade explained at Photographers Connection.  Kelly Tuohey Back to Basics on photography

These are taken at exactly the same location, just opposite views. And these are iPhone images.

Now understand that open shade is only half the story.

Facing the light does not mean facing the sun.  Huh? It could mean facing the sun, and it definitely means facing the sun on overcast days (more on that in a minute), but when it’s bright and sunny out, your illumination isn’t going to come directly from the sun.  It’s mostly going to come from a reflective surface. What’s a reflective surface?  Just about anything bright.  Sand. Concrete. Buildings. Water. You don’t actually want the light literally “reflected” (such as directly off a window) because it will blast too much light into your scene and probably make your subjects squint. Alternatively, you don’t want your reflected surface to be grass, if possible, because it’s likely you’ll end up with green colour casts in the shadows.

Open shade explained at Photographers Connection.  Kelly Tuohey Back to Basics on photography

My first attempt at open shade down at a local park. I got the beautiful catch lights and open shadows, but notice the sunny background??? Sigh. It’s distracting.

Open shade explained at Photographers Connection.  Kelly Tuohey Back to Basics on photography

These four images I took as I travelled around Wes, altering my position but not having him move. He *could* have been closer to the sandy beach (but I was still trying to figure out this whole “open shade” thing). The image top left has the nicest “portrait face features” but the background was quite dappled from the sun. See the final image below…

Open shade explained at Photographers Connection.  Kelly Tuohey Back to Basics on photography

This is the final image and location I chose. The sandy beach is to his left. He is technically “facing the sun” but it’s blocked behind large trees. The background is beautifully diffused, with no bright spots.

Coming back to that part about overcast days…

When it’s overcast, you do technically have open shade everywhere “out in the open,” making it (theoretically) easier to photograph. But if you don’t pay attention to where your light is coming from (i.e., the strongest source of your light), you’ll still end up with nasty shadows; They’ll just be “softer” than they would be on a bright day and still look just as horrid.

The image on the left worked not just because it was an overcast day, but because of the large amount of light being reflected on his face from an enormous gravel mound in addition to his position, which actually is "facing the light." (You can see the gravel mound in the image on the right)

The image on the left worked not just because it was an overcast day, but because of the large amount of light being reflected on his face from an enormous gravel mound in addition to his position, which actually is “facing the light.” (You can see the gravel mound in the image on the right)

You don’t have to worry about your reflected light as much because the clouds act as your “diffuse reflector.”    So yes, on overcast days, your subject can “face the sun.”

And last, know how to use it.

Just because you find open shade, and just because you face the light, doesn’t mean you’ll create a beautiful photograph.  You need to understand a bit about how our eyes and our brains work – our eyes are attracted to the brightest part of a photograph.  We like light more than dark. So if you face the light on a sunny day, even if you’re in the shade, you’ll likely get bright spots in your background. If you use dappled shade as “open shade,” you’ll get bright spots in your background (and likely on your subject). In short, this can ruin your photograph.  You can have the most beautiful subject in the world, but if our eyes can’t stop looking at the bright background, your photograph is a failure.

So the last piece of the puzzle is to have a diffused, even background that is darker than your subject.

Think about photographing indoors, using window light.  That’s a perfect example of open shade.  When you’re photographing outdoors, that’s what you’re trying to replicate.

Open shade explained at Photographers Connection by Kelly Tuohey Back to Photography Basics!

Here we are at an indoor waterpark. It had gorgeous diffused light (coming from her right). It’s this same concept you need to apply when outdoors.

The best way to make this stick is to get out and try it for yourself.  I went out multiple times before I finally nailed home the concept of reflected light (versus facing the sun) and the concept of the diffuse, darker background.  We learn best not by reading, but by doing! Open shade explained at Photographers Connection by Kelly Tuohey Back to Photography Basics!

How about you?  What’s your secret for shooting in open shade? Let me know in the comments, and we can all benefit from each other’s experiences.

This post is part of a Back to Basics Series we’re putting on throughout the summer!

Here are some other Back to {Photography} Basics posts you might enjoy:

How do I make my Backgrounds blurry?

Just what, exactly, is open shade?

Your camera’s best kept secret!

A Sneaky way to add more light to your images

Shooting wide open – why it’s SUCH a bad idea

Getting beautiful colour right out of the camera

How to ensure tack sharp images

How shooting in auto can teach you to shoot in manual

5 Essential newborn photography techniques (to read before your next newborn session!)

learn-to-shoot-in-manual

Kelly Tuohey Kelly Tuohey (30 Posts)

Kelly Tuohey dabbled in professional photography after the birth of her second child. She quickly realized she'd much rather teach, inspire and help other mamas learn to how take beautiful, meaningful photos of their own kids! A self-proclaimed momtog, she's one of "those moms" who constantly has a camera in hand...but it's more often than not her iPhone. She teamed up with Jammie at Photographers Connection in mid 2013 and never looked back! She's a reformed goodie two-shoes, the midnight finder of lost teddies, a coffee snob and lover of life. When not chasing around her own kidlets, she actually runs for fun and finds her zen through yoga.


Comments

comments

18 replies

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] trick? Discovering “open color” — a sweet spot between sun and shade, the place you are simply within the color however dealing with the sunshine — and a […]

  2. […] to Wolf outdoors provides more flattering lighting than indoors but the trick is to find “open shade.” It’s were you are standing just inside the shade but facing the light, with a nice wall […]

  3. […] trick? Finding “open shade” — a sweet spot between sun and shade, where you’re just inside the shade but facing the light — and a nice, clean wall […]

  4. […] trick? Finding “open shade” — a sweet spot between sun and shade, where you’re just inside the shade but facing the light — and a nice, clean wall to […]

  5. […] trick? Finding “open shade” — a sweet spot between sun and shade, where you’re just inside the shade but facing the light — and a nice, clean wall to […]

  6. […] trick? Finding “open shade” — a sweet spot between sun and shade, where you’re just inside the shade but facing the light — and a nice, clean wall […]

  7. […] trick? Finding “open shade” — a sweet spot between sun and shade, where you’re just inside the shade but facing the light — and a nice, clean wall […]

  8. […] trick? Finding “open shade” — a sweet spot between sun and shade, where you’re just inside the shade but facing the light — and a nice, clean wall to […]

  9. […] trick? Finding “open shade” — a sweet spot between sun and shade, where you’re just inside the shade but facing the light — and a nice, clean wall to […]

  10. […] trick? Finding “open shade” — a sweet spot between sun and shade, where you’re just inside the shade but facing the light — and a nice, clean wall […]

  11. […] trick? Finding “open shade” — a sweet spot between sun and shade, where you’re just inside the shade but facing the light — and a nice, clean wall […]

  12. […] trick? Finding “open shade” — a sweet spot between sun and shade, where you’re just inside the shade but facing the light — and a nice, clean wall to […]

  13. […] trick? Finding “open shade” — a sweet spot between sun and shade, where you’re just inside the shade but facing the light — and a nice, clean wall […]

  14. […] trick? Finding “open shade” — a sweet spot between sun and shade, where you’re just inside the shade but facing the light — and a nice, clean wall […]

  15. […] trick? Finding “open shade” — a sweet spot between sun and shade, where you’re just inside the shade but facing the light — and a nice, clean wall […]

  16. […] trick? Finding “open shade” — a sweet spot between sun and shade, where you’re just inside the shade but facing the light — and a nice, clean wall […]

  17. […] Photographers Connection | Just What, … – What is open shade? What difference will knowing make on your photography? Lots. (as in, get ready to have your next a-ha! moment) Of course, it’s not … […]

Comments are closed.