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Kids Shine In Open Shade

In the early days of amateur photography, enthusiasts were always warned to "keep the sun at your back" because films were not very sensitive to light and needed all the help they could get to record a decent image.

Jim Rubino photo

This beautifully pensive shot of a young girl was taken in a shaded forest area by photographer Jim Rubino.

But long before photography became a hobby of the masses, Victorian studio photographers had discovered the best way to light their subjects was to avoid the sun altogether. They set up indoor studios with huge, angled, glass skylights that flooded their customers with sun-free northern light and, if their exposures had to be long, well, the results were well worth it. Iron stands with head clamps kept subjects from moving during exposures that could last several minutes.

Digital cameras can easily handle photos shot in open shade, and that's where you should head if you want to end up with beautiful outdoor portraits, especially of kids.

Where do you find open shade? Almost anywhere not in direct sunlight- in the shadows of large buildings, under big trees, or all over on overcast days. Open shade lighting is softer than harsh, directional sunlight­ strong, unflattering shadows simply disappear.
Kane Archer photo

A wide veranda overhang provided photographer Kane Archer with soft even light that brings out the boy’s skin tones.

And because your subjects won't have to squint uncomfortably into strong sunlight, they'll be relaxed- even eager to pose for more photos than usual. Young children and teens -who can sometimes be ornery when it comes to picture-taking sessions- respond especially well to open shade.

The quality of light will vary depending on the kind of shade you shoot in because it is still somewhat directional. For example, if your subjects are under a large tree, light may be hitting them from the sides. But if you're shooting in the shadow of a large building, it will usually come from the sky above, similar to Victorian studio lighting. On overcast days, the light will be very even and appear to wrap around subjects from all angles.

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