Lighten deep shadows on faces in bright sunlight: Fix The Pix, Episode 1

The sun is up, the sky is blue, it’s beautiful…but your subject looks like a raccoon!

When part of a face is thrown into deep shadow by bright overhead sunlight, the results are not flattering. Here's how to get better photos with your digital camera in the mid-day sun.


Welcome to Fix The Pix, a new three-week series of how-to tips designed to help snapshooters avoid common photographic pitfalls, and take better pictures with any compact digital camera. Today’s images were shot with a Canon G10.

Fix me! It's high noon, there's not a cloud in the sky. You take pictures of your smiling loved ones. The result is a semi-abstract portrait, with the eyes obscured by deep, shadowy pockets that we call "raccoon eyes." The nose casts a dark mustache over the upper lip and mouth and...well, it’s not a pretty picture.

There are two ways to get rid of those dark shadows: Add more light, or move out of direct sunlight.

The easy fix: Add more light to blow away the shadows by turning on your camera's built-in flash, as I did above. Most point-and-shoot digital cameras sense when there's enough light that you don't need flash, but they're not smart enough to know when the lighting will cause deep shadows. In your camera's flash mode, switch from Auto to the little lightning bolt that indicates the flash is always on.

The more advanced fix: Use a reflector such as the Flashpoint 22-Inch Circular Collapsible Disc Reflector to bounce sunlight into your subjects' faces. Reflectors can provide a wider light surface, which results in more flattering lighting than a tiny on-camera flash can provide. You'll probably need an assistant to hold the reflector and aim the light while you're taking pictures.

The think-outside-the-box fix: Get out of the sun! Find an open shade area, and position your subject so the area behind is darker than (or the same level of brightness as) your subject. I shot this about ten feet from where I took the first to shots, but what a difference turning around and shooting into the shade made here! Make sure your flash is turned off and your shake reduction is turned on.

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