I know there are few common light positions for studio photography. For example, a key light positioned 45 degrees horizontal and slightly above the subject. I was wondering if there were any common positions to place the sun in while doing outdoor portraiture. Especially with the aim to eliminate any harsh shadows.

If I can make the question a little more comprehensive, I'd like to know angles during midday, sunset, and with/without a reflector for fill.



2 Answers 2


As a very general guidance, you should place the sun at the 3/9/12 o'clock position of the subject, and try to avoid the 6 o'clock position.

That is, the left, right, or behind the model (back lit), and try to avoid direct sunlight straight onto the model's face.

Why not straight on?

  • the model will have a VERY hard time keeping their eyes open, and their facial expression looks like they are about to be punched in the face
  • the light is flat and harsh, with hard shadows under the chin

Why from the sides? (I mean side lit in general, so 2,3,4,8,9,10 o'clock positions are perfectly fine)

  • Gives a full sense of dimension of the model's face, a 3D lighting
  • However shows blemishes
  • Works very well with a simple reflector to balance out the shadow side

Why from behind?

  • Usually a good lighting for hair
  • The model's face is softly and evenly lit (when you expose for the face)
  • You can easily control the amount of light that falls on the model's face by a reflector
  • The popup flash can be used as a fill flash (when all you have is the popup flash, this is one of the best way to get amazing results)
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Why not from any diagonal direction? \$\endgroup\$
    – Imre
    Nov 29, 2011 at 7:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ I didn't mean exactly 90 degrees to the left/right. I should edit it to point out that I meant "side lit" in general. Thanks \$\endgroup\$
    – Gapton
    Nov 29, 2011 at 11:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wouldn't side-lit (~90') make for harsh shadows without a reflector? Or did you only mean, side-lit if you have a reflector? \$\endgroup\$ Dec 1, 2011 at 1:16
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @PerishableDave Indeed without a reflector there will be hard shadow, but I still think it is better than straight-on flat light and weird facial expression \$\endgroup\$
    – Gapton
    Dec 1, 2011 at 1:44

You can think of the sun as your key light, or hair light, or (if you have some powerful lighting) even a fill light; you place the sun according to which role it has to play. Same thing about reflectors - they are just light sources, with very narrow beam and weaker than the source they are reflecting.

A midday sun is like a ceiling lamp - not really good for a key light, creating long hard downward shadows. So you either place it away (by shooting in shade) or behind the model. Since you take portraits with a tele lens, you don't have to worry too much about getting the sun in frame, so it does not have to be exactly behind the model; you do need either reflector or fill light from the front though.

Near sunset, the light quality and angle is much more suitable and can be used as any of the light sources. The light is warmer, so you if you use fill flash you should use a CTO or CTS gel (full or weaker, depending on stage of the sunset) to have the light with same color as sunlight.

  • \$\begingroup\$ You mean color temperature (of a setting sun) is "warmer", right? \$\endgroup\$
    – Vikas
    Nov 29, 2011 at 8:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Vikas this is the confusing part about color temperatures - cooler temperatures give warmer light. The scale is based on color of a heated "black body", a theoretical material similar to some metals, which is red below 3000K and blue above 7000K. Think how a heated stove looks compared to blaze of a high-performance welding machine. But yes, "warm light" will probably sound less confusing. \$\endgroup\$
    – Imre
    Nov 29, 2011 at 8:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.