We have all heard the advice "shoot during the magic hours at sunrise and sunset for the best lighting and avoid the mid-day sun". Well, for most of the photography I end up engaged in, morning and evening is the time I shoot. However there are opportunities to tame the harsh light of the mid-day sun and one of those is Open Shade.
Open shade is simply an area out-doors that is shaded from the direct light of the sun, therefore being illuminated by reflected light. On a workshop I attended last October in Arizona, Alan Briot scheduled one of the shoots in Monument Valley at noon. To be honest I was not expecting to get any stunning images during this shoot because of the lighting. Before we started Alan explained that we would be shooting in open shade and this lighting is one of the "best kept secrets in photography".
As you can see from the image of the tree in front of a cliff, the colors are saturated and the lighting has a wonderful soft warm quality.
Well, fast forward to this past labor day weekend: we were enjoying our family's company at a birthday party for my nephew. It was time for the games and I had my camera to capture some of the action in the backyard. After taking a few pictures I noticed a soft glow on the kids faces, I looked around and sure enough we were in open shade with a natural reflector. It was 5:00pm on a clear day, but everyone was shaded by the house and a large building to the east of the yard was reflecting a warm glow.
This diagram shows a conceptual representation of the lighting Sunday afternoon. This is the type of lighting that is reproduced in many studio portrait sessions. Here the main light is not the sun, but a reflection of the sunlight causing the light source relative to the subject to increase...creating softer (more diffused) light.
As photographers we need to learn to "See" the light, and realize what makes attractive lighting. Once we understand the concepts, it allows us to adapt to the environment when scouting a shoot or just taking pictures at the nephew's birthday party.
The image below was taken at the Party with reflected sunlight in Open Shade
Go look for the light!