I’ve been there SO MANY TIMES before! I’ve anticipated a portrait session for weeks and months it seems like and when the session day FINALLY gets there…Mother Nature has other plans! The weather is either bad and we can’t shoot outside, or the sky is dark, cloudy and gray! It never fails, but it seems like all the sessions I book WAY in ADVANCE always turn out to have bad weather and we’ll have to reschedule! Go figure, right?!
Today I’m going to share with you the difference between photographing your session on a bright and sunny day versus a cloudy, overcast day.
But, before I do that…I’ll have to share with you my little secrets about how to find and use the best natural light available!
First off, let me just start by saying one thing: I DO NOT USE FLASH (outdoors)!! (update: The ONLY time I use flash is if I’m indoors and the available light is way too dark or it’s after the sun has set at a reception indoors!) In fact, just the other day while we were at the beach, I CRINGED when I saw a family taking photos on the beach and their photographer was using flash left and right!! The natural light at that is found on the beach at sunset is SO PRETTY! Phillip literally had to hold me back from just grabbing my camera and going up to them and shooting!! 😉 Hehe! After 8 years of photographing weddings and all sorts of sessions, I’ve had LOTS of hobbyist photographers tell me that I would benefit from using flash or off-camera flash while I’m shooting portraits outdoors. It definitely gets annoying hearing that, especially when I’ve been able to recognize, use, manipulate, and control NATURAL light — with absolutely, no flash required! Even when I was in photo school, I had my “portrait photography professor” say that “any photographer claiming to be a “natural light photographer” is not really a REAL photographer!” YES!! She said that!!! While that MAY have been true back 20+ years ago when photography trends were done in studios with painted backdrops and it was all very “staged”, it’s just not true anymore! In fact, I think one of the biggest challenges in photography IS being able to modify and manipulate NATURAL light, and make it look good!!
When I schedule ANY portrait session, I only photograph during the “golden hours” of a day. Golden hour happens twice in one day — for two hours after the official sunrise and for two hours before the official sunset. The ONLY time I photograph ANY portraits in the very middle of the day (usually 10:30am until 3:30pm depending on the time of year!) is during a wedding day when the timeline and the logistics of the day make it the only time available to photograph. I choose to only shoot during golden hour because in my opinion, it’s the prettiest light to work with and the type of light that matches my style the most. Here’s some recent examples of why I LOVE, love, LOOOOOOVE shooting during golden hour and why it matches my photographic style perfectly!
Plus, one benefit of shooting in golden hour light is that I’ll ALWAYS have a pretty spot to photograph in, no matter WHAT the location! If you can FIND the pretty light, then really ANY location will look good!! That is why my number one rule when trying to decide WHERE to do a photo session is: 1.) FIND WHERE THE LIGHT LOOKS GOOD!!! and then 2.) THEN FIND A NICE/CLEAN/SIMPLE background!
Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve had plenty of times where I’ve had a session scheduled and when the session day finally came around, the weather or lighting conditions just weren’t ideal and we’ve needed to reschedule. Trust me, I hate rescheduling JUST AS MUCH as my clients do, but oftentimes it’s for the very best!! I try my best to explain that even though overcast conditions are considered “ideal” for many photographers, that is just not the case for my style of work and what they are used to seeing of my work. That is why I wanted to write this blog post in the first place! I wanted a place to explain the difference in the overall look and vibe of the final images of a session photographed on a sunny day versus a session photographed on an overcast day. Since I’m more of a visual person anyway, I’ve decided to show examples of bright/sunny conditions versus overcast/cloudy conditions so you can see the difference for yourself! And if you just so happen to be on the fence about rescheduling your portrait session, this might help you decide!
The following image is taken at the same time of day and at the same location. The photo on the left is with overcast skies and the photo on the right is with sunny & clear skies.
Here’s some more examples of sunny vs. cloudy days. These are all taken at the same location. Overcast on the left, sunny on the right.
Here’s an overcast example: Here’s the same location, but with sunny skies:
A HUGE storm was literally ROLLING IN when we took all of the portraits for Devan & Chad’s wedding (below, left) but for Natasha & Levi’s wedding day (below, right) it was clear and sunny!!
Overcast skies for Devan & Chad’s wedding (below) Clear skies for Natasha & Levi’s wedding (above)
It’s hard to explain the difference overcast verses sunny skies make in the “look/vibe” of the images…but it’s easy to spot in the photos!! I love both of these images, but the lighting in the right image matches more of my style.
Sometimes, even sessions can be calling for sunshine, but then an occasional cloud rolls in! The images below show an engagement session where the first image has the cloud covering the sun and the following image is when the cloud drifted by and the sun came out again!
The partly cloudy skies happened again on a wedding day within less than 5 minutes of each image!! The chance of rain on this wedding day was over 50%, so the sunshine was in and out for the most part of the day. It ended up raining during the reception introductions and then it was sunny!! I took the Bride and Groom out for portraits during sunset after the rain! It was gorgeous!!
Overcast conditions on the left, sunny conditions on the right.
Overcast conditions below:
Sunny conditions below:
I always want my clients and couples to be so happy with their final images and if they’re used to seeing bright & sunny images on my blog or instagram feed and are expecting that same kind of vibe, then it’s my job to EDUCATE my clients and to make them aware that the lighting and the conditions of the natural, available light make all the difference in the final images.
Hopefully this post has helped make your decision a little easier if you’re trying to decide to reschedule or not! Or it’s at least given you a little snippet of information about how important natural light is for a successful photography session! Don’t always believe the lie they tell that overcast skies are better, or that using flash is the only way to get nice portraits! In my case, it’s just not true!
(ps…If you’re a photographer who loves using flash, that’s great!! If it works for you, I’m thrilled!! Using flash just doesn’t match my style! I love glowy, bright, light, airy, and natural images over dramatic, darker images…but that’s just what I prefer! I’ve found what I love and what works for me and my style, and I hope you’ve done the same!! At the end of the day, especially if you’re a portrait/wedding photographer, as long as you’re proud of the work you’ve created and your client is happy…THAT is ALL that matters!!)