Our family has been going to the same gorgeous apple orchard on top of a mountain every fall since 2012. It is one of our favorite family traditions this time of year and I look forward to bringing my camera every time. The drive up to Sky Top Orchard is breathtaking and I use this outing as the perfect excuse to get fresh milestone pictures of my girls every fall.
When you visit the exact same location for so many years in a row, you learn quite a bit about lighting and how to compose an image. We've faced everything from overcast outings to blazing hot full sun visits. I thought the photos would make perfect examples for a lesson in natural light photography and how to capture your family no matter how intense the sun is during your adventure.
8 fool proof photo tips for taking pictures in full sun:
1. Give yourself permission to take the sentimental snapshot but consider this:
Sentimental snapshots are those pictures we take where we are free to break rules of composition and lighting because the memory matters more than the technical beauty of the image. Ask any professional photographer and I can practically guarantee they have these in their photo library too!
Sky Top features this cooky apple sign with their name and current year painted on it. There is NO way we are visiting without capturing this snap. The apple sign is in a fixed spot and I can't control the angle of the sun or the way the shade falls on it during the time we visit.
I'm not leaving the orchard without this picture so we try to do it immediately upon arrival while the kids are in a good mood. If the sign is half covered in shade, we'll circle back after apple picking to give the sun some time to move. I try to take this picture when the sign is either completely in the sun or completely in the shade, not half and half. Beyond that, I don't stress anything else. The girls sit in front of it and BAM, memories are made.
Look at how little my girls were when we started going!
2. Have the shortest person closer to the direction of the light than the taller person:
During our very first visit to the orchard, we saw this adorable hand-painted Honey Crisp sign. It just happened to be at the perfect spot on a hill where you could see the mountain range in the background. I love how this spot gives us a feel for the location of our activity more than any other image I take during the visit.
This year, the light was more intense than normal and we were dealing with harsh direct sunshine. Since my girls are such different heights right now, I missed considering one easy trick before snapping the picture.
If you notice in the image at the top of this collage, the shorter girl is on the left which allows for the sunshine to hit the taller girl on the right.
In the bottom image, the taller girl is shading the shorter one and they are not evenly lit. A simple swap of position would have easily fixed it.
By the time I noticed and rearranged them, they were "done" with this shot and ready to go pick apples. Their first pose was far more natural and cute despite the uneven lighting so the perfectly imperfect image ended up being my favorite.
3. Look for open shade and learn to love it:
When the sun is at high noon and the light is all just too much, look for open shade in creative places. At the apple orchard we found it in the shade of the trees and underneath a large open awning that covered some picnic benches where we enjoyed hot apple cider donuts.
Place your subject under the shade with their faces pointed out towards the light and their backs to the dark of the shade. In all of these pictures, I captured the girls with my back to the sun. The light reflects on their face without causing squinting.
4. Notice dappled light and avoid it like the plague!:
The biggest mistake I see when friends share fall apple picking photos is dappled light directly on children's faces. I always cringe because it is actually one of the easiest things to spot and fix.
The photo on the left shows the uneven hot spots of light on the Peanut's face. She is standing inside the apple tree. You'd think that standing this close to the trunk of a tree with branches all around would allow for a nice open shaded image, but the branches usually let bits of light shine through.
The photo on the right is inside that same tree but standing 1 step backwards and angled to the left a little. You'll notice a hot spot on her neck, but her face is perfectly evenly lit. Inside an apple tree, you're going to find hot spots somewhere on your subject but avoid having it fall directly on the face!
5. Look for an even background:
On full sun days, it is tempting to try to capture that big beautiful blue sky. If you're not capturing just the right subject though, the sky often gets washed out and appears white instead of blue.
In the shot on the left, you'll see a white patch of sky next to a dark and heavily shaded tree. The camera cannot properly expose for both light and dark at the same time. Rather than split the difference, it is better to fill your frame with the same kind of background.
In the shot on the right, I posed Handyman Tim so that the trees filled the background of the shot which made it much easier to evenly expose the image.
6. Bring sunglasses!:
My fair eyed ladies are like little mole people. They cannot keep their eyes open in the sunshine. We have made it a habit to stock up on cute sunglasses to bring with us everywhere we go. I'd rather have a shot with both of them wearing glasses than have them squinting and cringing from the sun.
If the posing of the shot has the sun too close to their eyes, I've even told them to just close their eyes altogether behind the glasses so they can keep their chins in a flattering position. Even I can't tell if their eyes are shut in the images once we get home!
7. Use uniform backlight on your subject to capture mixed light scenes:
Full sun photography is especially tricky because it causes deep shades and overexposed hot spots all in the same image. Finding a uniform background can be tricky but you can find a uniform light for your subject. After I've captured a bunch of closer up, evenly lit shots, I like to use backlight to capture the bigger scene.
I pose my girls so that they are both hit directly by the sunshine on their backs. This points their faces away from the light source to help avoid the squinting. If they had stepped over one step to the left, Little Pea would have been in the shade and the Peanut in the sun which ruins the shot. Be sure your subjects are all in the same amount of light. Even one step one way or the other can make a difference.
8. Don't forget the details:
When most of my photos from a weekend adventure are taken in full sunlight, I like to mix in some detail shots that add character to the collection of photos. Close-ups of our donuts, apples in a basket, the piles of baskets waiting for pickers, and the little country store sign were all taken in open shade scenarios. I print them out and mix them into our wall galleries, video slide shows, and photo albums and they give the eye a little relief from all the brightly lit images from the rest of the outing. The help tell the bigger story of our family's adventure and trigger fun conversations when my kids look through them after we're home.