As November quickly approaches, I thought this was the perfect time to make small talk about the weather. No, really! A widespread misconception about booking a photoshoot is that you need a perfect, sunny day for them to look amazing – so what if the day of your session arrives and it's overcast, and you feel disappointed. Believe it or not, what you see as ugly gray clouds is actually your photographer's silver lining!
So let's talk about lighting – is sunlight really the ultimate key for a great photo session? You're probably assuming I'm going to say no; the truth is, I'm only going to say half no.
In reality, it depends on the degree of brightness of the sunlight which determines whether or not it's going to be helpful, or hindering. The most common time I try to book most of my photoshoots is during what we call "Golden Hour", which is roughly the hour or so before sundown. This is when the sun is lowest in the sky, and will give us a soft, flattering glow at any time of year. I'm assuming this technique would also work well around sunrise – but there's no amount of money that could make me want to do a photoshoot that early, so I couldn't tell you.
Now, what about a sunny day, in the middle of the day? The honest truth is, your photographer may cry a little inside when asked to do a shoot at this time, and will likely be hunting for some shade, or praying to the rain gods for some clouds. You're probably thinking, clouds? Why on earth would my photographer want a perfectly good sunny day to be ruined by clouds?
The reality is that, for one, direct and harsh sunlight is actually a huge pain in the rear to us! It can really mess with our exposure, meaning anything that reflects or bounces light is going to be ten times brighter than usual – which in turn, means that the shadows may be darker than usual as well. We do have ways to combat this extreme overhead lighting in our camera and editing, but generally we try to avoid it when we can, whether that means finding a shaded area to photograph in or possibly even finding a better date or time for our clients.
In the photo above, I shuddered when I heard the wedding was going to be at one in the afternoon, especially on a beach; reflective sand on a sunny midday is my worst nightmare. You can imagine my relief when, yes – it turned out to be overcast and almost a little drizzly!
So really, what it comes down to for the photographer isn't really about the weather, but about the strength of the lighting. Midday sunlight is almost like having a giant flashlight being blasted down onto our clients' faces, creating washed out highlights and harsh shadows. What the clouds do for us is act as a giant flash diffuser – they take all of that strong light and act as a buffer, letting it gently filter through for a soft glow.
Let's take a look at the examples above! Now coincidentally, both of these photos were taken around the same time in the morning, and both of them were taken on the beach. The main factor here is simple – one is from a very gray day, and one was in bright sunlight. You can see what a difference this makes! The photo on the left remains to this day as one of my favorite photos I've taken. They were both wearing black, and against the gray sea with a gray sky, the black and white filter looks stunning. Their skin looks so soft!
The photo on the right took place right after he proposed to her. The main issue I was having at that point in the day was how aggressively the sun was beating down on us; you can see how much the light is glaring off of their shirts and skin, and then how it's cutting dark shadows over their facial features. I did eventually have to move them to a more shaded location to take some photos with softer lighting, which is what you can see in the third photo. Much less harsh lights and darks!
In the end, what I'm trying to get at here is that sun doesn't mean better at all, it just means a different. Sunny days (around sunset) can yield very beautiful photos – but so can cloudy, and even damp days! And not to mention, overcast days can make the timing of the photo session more flexible, as it doesn't matter if we book midday.
This is especially for those of us who live in New England, particularly around this time of year; sometimes we have to get engaged in the rain, or have family photos of jumping in mud puddles. Personally, I'm a big fan of dark and moody photography, so while a client's impulse might be to turn and run when they see a storm coming, I'm actually running towards it and hoping someone will come and join me!
Morgan Ofsharick specializes in proposal, engagement, maternity, and family portrait photography, servicing New Haven, Fairfield, Hartford, Middlesex, Litchfield, and plenty of other regions around Connecticut! –MEO Photography