How to Find & Use Open Shade in Photography for Better Photos

Today we are going to have tutorial on LIGHT - specifically how to find and use open shade in photography, so you can take more flattering photos!

First of all, raise your hand: how many times have you read / heard that you should shoot in the hours just before sunset or just after sunrise (a.k.a the Golden Hour), for the best light?

And how many times did you mutter under your breath that that’s freakin’ impossible to do all the time, especially if you have kids? (yes, I can hear you)

The good news is, there is a way to photograph in full sun, even at midday, hat still allows you to get nice, soft even light on your subjects, AND is easy to use!

It’s called open shade, and in this photography lighting tutorial, I’m going to show examples of where you can find open shade, and how to use it for the most flattering results.

Let’s jump in!

Learn what open shade in photography is and how to find and use it in this photography lighting tutorial! | Photography Tips | Beginner Photography Tutorial

What is open shade in photography?

So what do we mean when we refer to open shade?

It’s super simple - open shade is anywhere that is shaded from direct sunlight but still has ambient light around it.

Here’s an example of open shade:

Open Shade Example.png

Don’t look at the subject, but look at the ground - see where you have a line on the ground where light meets dark? That area is open shade - you aren’t blocked in as there is light all around, but your subject is n that shaded area, out of direct sunlight.

So why do we even want to use open shade in the first place?

When your subject is in direct sunlight, and the light is very strong and harsh, and it will give you unflattering shadows on the face.

Here’s an example of a photograph taken in full sun that will show you exactly what I mean:

Open Shade Photography_ direct-light.png

You can see that there is dark shadows in the eyes, and under the chin, and it’s just generally a super unflattering picture.

But here’s another example,  but this time of an image taken in open shade.

Open Shade.png

See the difference?

The light is incredibly flattering to your subject, because it creates nice, soft, even light on the face, and beautiful catchlights in the eyes.

How to Find Open Shade

If the sun is shining, you should be able to find somewhere that has open shade regardless of the time of day (including high noon when the sun is more likely to be directly overhead) .

Have a look around you and see if there are any buildings, or umbrellas, or trees, or fences that are causing a shadow on the ground. 

Remember its the GROUND you are looking at really, and trying to find an area where light meets shadow.

How to Use Open Shade

You want to place your subject so that they are at the edge of the shaded area, looking out toward the area that has light (this bit is important - you don’t want them looking back into the shadow unless you have some form of reflector there) 

So they are looking out ONTO the light, but not actually IN the light.

Open Shade Photography Diagram.png

Then check the light on your subject - do they good? Are there catchlights in the eyes and enough light on the face?

Also check for any hotspots on your subject (hotspots are when sunlight is coming through on just one small area - like in patches) This is common when using trees because they don’t create “uniform” shade. This is also known as dappled light, and whilst I never say never with regard to the type of light you use, it’s pretty darn hard to get a good image with dappled light so unless you want to try to get all arty and creative, just avoid it :-)

Watch your White Balance!

One final point to note: this is one of those times when using Auto White Balance isn’t the best option, as your camera will frequently get it wrong.

Either set your own custom white balance, or simply change your white balance settings to shade (it looks like the image below)

White balance settings for open shade.jpg

Take action!

Now, I’d love to see you give open shade a try! Remember, photography is not an armchair sport, so get out there and start shooting :-)  

But before you do, be sure to sign up and grab your FREE 90 Day Photography Learning Blueprint. This free (and highly actionable!) cheat sheet will walk you through what you need to learn in photography, and in what order, so that you have a complete blueprint to refer to!


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    Now it’s over to you!

    Tell me - do you avoid shooting in full sun, or do you love it? What strategies do you have for dealing with full sun?  Leave a comment below and let me know - remember, thousands of people read this blog each week, and your insights can help someone else have a breakthrough too!

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