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Photo Tip Thursday: Shooting Near Water

This week’s Photo Tip Thursday has all to do with shooting on/near large bodies of water.  Lakes, rivers, ponds and other bodies of water offer some stunning scenery for the background of your outfit photos, but they also present some tricky lighting scenarios that make taking these photos quite difficult.

The biggest issue with water is it’s reflectivity. A vast majority of the light hitting it from the sky gets reflected off of it, and that means a lot more light enters your camera. We’ll talk about a couple of different lighting scenarios that occur when shooting on/near water and how to deal with them.

The first scenario is when the sun is up really high above you, say around noon.  Now, normally, shooting in these conditions on land would be less than optimal, as the light would produce harsh shadows on the face.  As I mentioned before however, water is a very reflective medium and therefore bounces some of that sunlight off of its surface and back onto your subject, filling in some of those shadows.  For this reason, you don’t have to worry as much about finding shade or having your subject face away from the sun.

The water as well as the white surfaces of the boat act as reflectors, bouncing light back and filling in many of the harsh shadows caused by the direct overhead sunlight.

You can put the sun behind you if you’d like, but I wouldn’t recommend putting it directly behind your subject.  Instead, put it behind and to the side of your subject.  This will ensure that the photo is more evenly lit.

Angling the sun behind and to the side of your subject keeps the photo lit more evenly.

The second scenario takes place later in the day when the sun is much lower relative to the horizon {this could be either at sunrise or near sunset}.  I’m sure many of us {me included} have thought, “How great would it be to get this sunrise/sunset in the background of these outfit photos?”  Trust me, it would be, I know, but it often doesn’t work out this way.  The problem is that you have this really bright sky emitting a lot of light, and also, a vast majority of this light from the sky being reflected off of the surface of the water and right into your camera, and then you have your subject who’s facing you and…emitting no light whatsoever.  This means that if you expose for the sky and the water, your subject will be drastically underexposed and appear as a silhouette. That could potentially be a really pretty photo and all, but it doesn’t do the outfit that your subject is wearing any justice.

To combat this issue, more often than not I swap places with Grace, and have her face into the sun.  This way, the lighting of my subject and the entire background is even.  When the sun is this low, the light is soft and diffused and doesn’t produce any harsh shadows on my subject, or their outfit.

Facing the sun when it is low on the horizon provides soft, even lighting your your subject and their outfit.

Alternatively, you can place your subject at a 45 degree angle to the sun and have them look towards it while you shoot straight on.  This ensures an even lighting on your subject as well as the background.  The water will look nice and blue, and the details in the sky won’t be all blown out.

Just remember, the key to shooting near water is to make sure that the exposure of your background and subject are relatively similar.  When in harsh sun, use the water’s surface as a giant reflector to bounce light back onto your subject and fill in any unwanted shadows.  During periods when the sun is low to the horizon, have your subject face into the sun or stand at an angle to it so that the lighting is even and the sky and water don’t become over-exposed.

I hope this helps. Thanks for reading!

  1. Great tips! I always learn so much from your photography posts. I have a question that maybe you've touched on. How can I get my photos really crisp and clear?? I'm using a DSLR but a lot of my pictures don't have the crispness I want them to have.

  2. Andrew Adams says:

    Usually lack of sharpness in photos is caused by a couple of factors when shooting. First, it could be the aperture that you're using. Large apertures (f/1.2-2.8) have really small depths of fields, meaning that a small slice of the image, primarily what you focus on, will be in focus. If you try to focus and then recompose before taking your shot, or make the smallest error in focus, your image won't be sharp. Secondly, if you're using too slow of a shutter speed {slower than 1/125th of a second}, you're likely to have some camera shake in your pictures which would detract from sharpness. Lastly, I always apply some sharpening to all of the photos that I take when processing them in Lightroom on my computer. The RAW format that I shoot in doesn't have any sharpening applied in camera so I add it later.

    Here's some links to some older posts that I did on reasons for blurry photos, shooting with large apertures, and selecting focus points that should help you get sharper images:


  3. Thanks for writing back. I'll check all these.

  4. Where is that amazing knit sweater from and adorable bag!?!

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I’m just an everyday gal who can go from gym to glam in record timing. I run on sarcasm & coffee on the weekdays and sass & vino on the weekends! I strive to stay fit, stylish, and healthy, while also trying to be the very best version of myself (sounds easy enough, right?).   MEET GRACE ⟶