Making the sun work for you. Guest Post.

I'm excited to introduce you to Marissa Gifford. She's a professional photographer with a gift for capturing connections and mastering sunlight. Marissa's work will no doubt leave you inspired to get out and shoot.

Ahh, the sun. It can make or break an image. Or, more accurately, the shadows and quality of light it creates can make or break an image. We've all seen those snapshots taken in the middle of the day where people end up with raccoon eye shadows on their faces. You might be torn thinking that it's such a cute shot of little Susie but are wishing that her eyes weren't black dots in her face. Sometimes with kids, you have to take what you can get and just be glad you got anything at all. But the more you know, the more you can set yourself up for success by paying attention to the quality and direction of the light. Here are some of my best tips for making the sun work for you.

1) Shade Their Face: Shooting in the middle of the day can be a very tricky lighting situation. My best advice is to have your child turn around until his/her face is shaded from the sun. Just by turning their head or body to face a different direction you can go from sharp shadows so evenly lit. Here's a quick picture I took of my 4 year old son on vacation this summer. We were swimming at a lake and this was taken at about 3pm. In the Northwest, the sun is still pretty much straight overhead at that time. You can see the bright highlight on top of his head here. If he'd had his chin up even a little more, it wouldn't have worked.


2) Find Open Shade: If you're outside in the middle of the day, one way to find soft, even lighting is to seek out open shade. You still want the light to illuminate their eyes, but you don't want it so bright that they're squinting. Find a patch of trees, use the side of a building, or an awning of some kind to take advantage of this type of lighting. Put your subject just inside the shade line and have them face out toward the sunny area (as opposed to facing the deeper shade) to get that gorgeous sparkle in their eyes. Here are 2 examples: One is of my 2 older sons under an open shelter at a park. I had them right at the edge and snapped this sweet moment between them. The second is from a recent senior session I did. It was really bright when we first started so I utilized this gorgeous ivy arch to shield her from the harsh sun.


3) Front Lighting: Sunsets and sunrises are your friends! When the sun is at a low angle in the sky, it's rays are softened and you can easily have your subjects face the sun without worrying about them squinting or that the sun will cast harsh shadows. If you're out and about when the sun is at either of these angles, take advantage of the dreamy quality of light that you can only find at those times of day. The following shot was taken toward the end of a senior session about 30 minutes before sunset with the sun shining in on her from camera left.


4) Back Lighting: Love those warm, hazy backlit shots? You know, the ones that make it look like heaven itself is smiling down on your subject? Yeah, me too. They're my favorites. Like front lighting, this type of light is ideal at sunrise and sunset. In fact, the hour before sunset is commonly referred to as "golden hour" in the photography community due to the warm, buttery tones the sun gives off at this time of day. Place your subject's back to the sun and shoot away. You can control the amount of haze based on your angle, so take the time to walk around and look through the camera to find what you want. The more sun you have hitting your lens, the more haze you'll have. Here are 2 examples: In the first one the sun is right behind my subject (just out of the top of the frame) giving the image a slightly hazy, more sun-washed look. This type of lighting always reminds me of being wrapped in a warm blanket. The second shot is less hazy because the sun wasn't directly behind my subject. It was behind and to camera right (just over her shoulder), so it yielded an image with more punch and contrast, but still had the soft tones of sunset.

Light is the most important ingredient in photography. If the lighting is bad, you're not going to love your shots. If you can learn to harness the sun and make it work for you, your rate of "keeper" shots will skyrocket.  Pay attention to what the sun is doing on your subject's face. Are the eyes dull and dark or sparkly and bright? Are there strange shadows or dappled light mussing it up or did you find some soft, even lighting. Knowing these little tricks will help you take better photographs of your family  and feel confident shooting at all different times of day. Have fun and happy shooting! :)

 About Marissa: Marissa Gifford is a natural-light, on-location photographer in Vancouver, WA serving the greater Portland, OR metro area. She specializes in newborns, maternity, families and seniors. Raised in Palo Alto, CA, she attended the University of Arizona where she double majored in Spanish and Political Science (with a minor in humanities, just for fun). After graduation she moved to the Northwest in 2002. She is married to her soul mate, Scott, and is mother to three rambunctious boys aged 7, 4, & 21 months. She's an avid football fan, foreign-language learner, reader, Diet Coke drinker and black licorice eater.  Visit her online at, on Facebook at, or contact her directly at