Lesson 13: Open shade

See how harsh the shadows are here compared to the next photo.

See how harsh the shadows are here compared to the next photo.

Yesterday we talked about window light. Window light is essentially indoor “open shade.” “Open shade” is a term you will hear photographers use to talk about optimal light conditions. 
 
Open shade is when you are out of direct sunlight, i.e. in the shade, but near a natural light source that is bouncing light indirectly onto your subject. 
 
Open shade is not being in a deep, dark tunnel far from light! 

The sun was behind a cloud so you can see the shadows are softer for a completely different feel.

The sun was behind a cloud so you can see the shadows are softer for a completely different feel.

When you know how to find open shade, you’ll find the light in your captured photographs to be a lot less harsh and a lot more flattering than direct sunlight, and you’ll be better able to capture how the moment feels.

When you are in direct sunlight in “real life,” your eyes adjust, so you don’t necessarily notice how unflattering the light is. As a result, it becomes more apparent in your photos, adding to that disconnect that you may feel between the moment you experienced and what your photos show.

Put this into action today:

Locating open shade: 

  • Look for the hard line at the edge of the light where the shade starts. Notice that this may not always be on the ground - in a courtyard or alley, the ground may be completely in the shade, but some of the building facades are in the sun and reflecting light into the shade.
     
  • Alternatively, look for patches of shade, such as in doorways, on porches, under overhangs, in courtyards, or in the shadows of buildings or trees. 
     
  • The closer you are to the edge of the shade while still being in the shade, the better. 
     
  • Warning: if you are in the shade created by trees, make sure your shade tree is very dense to avoid dappled light, which is when you see spots of light on the ground. Dappled light is very pretty in landscape photos, but not so great when those spots of light are on someone’s face!
Dappled light can be very pretty but can be distracting if the spots of light are on someone's face and they are a large focus of the photo.

Dappled light can be very pretty but can be distracting if the spots of light are on someone's face and they are a large focus of the photo.

If you are new to working with open shade, these are the most important steps to apply: 

  • As with window light, it is best if your subjects are facing the source of bounced light so that it falls on their face a little from the side. Again, try not to ask your kids to pose, but if you move, they will likely naturally turn towards you, or you can point out things for them to look at that are in the direction you want them to look. Or you can just wait. 
     
  • Pay attention to the light in the background of your photo as well. If it is too bright, that may create too much contrast in your photo. Especially on your smartphone, having your subject and the entire background in open shade is the easiest way to get beautiful, even lighting with great colors and clarity to best capture the moment in your photos.

Once you are comfortable with these steps, here are a few more things to consider: 

  • It is best if you are also in the shade, as you might otherwise get “lens flare” from the light shining directly in your lens (smartphone or DSLR), although sometimes that can be a really great look. But if you want to avoid it, stand in the shade or use your hand (or a lens hood for your DSLR) to shade your lens. 
     
  • As with window light, look for “catchlights” in your subject’s eyes - that is when light is reflected in their eyes. Not only does it bring their personality to life in photos, it is a sure sign that they are positioned well in the light.

Here are some iPhone photo examples of open shade:

Taking it further: 
 
Cloudy days are great for photos because there is no direct sunlight and everywhere is in open shade! I love going to the playground after it has rained, not only so my kids can let loose some of their pent-up energy from being inside, but because it is often still overcast with lovely, soft, diffuse light. 
 
Dawn and dusk are also great times for photos because the low angle of the sun makes for more diffuse light. 

Here are some DSLR photo examples of open shade:

Today’s photo prompt: Look for open shade outdoors! 
Up next: Direct sunlight

Note: I'll be giving you daily photo prompts to help you in your photo-a-day project but they are completely optional. Ultimately you should choose the photo for your project that best reflects what you most want to remember about the day.

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