Open Shade

Updated: Sep 27, 2018

Tips for working in open shade



Open Shade is a reference to an even shadow area outdoors. When shooting at mid-morning, noon, or mid-afternoon, this area is crucial to find. During these times, the sunlight has a lot of contrast and it's angle is higher in the sky. This direct sun from above is generally not a flattering light to use. With that said, you don't always have to shoot early morning and late evening to find quality light. You can create fabulous photographs shooting at all times of the day.



Look for structures that produce shade that also has the sunlight casting around it. If you find an area which has sunlight that can bounce off a white wall into the shade, you have the ultimate open shade spot to photograph in. This will give you sweet light. You can also direct light with a reflector for adding more punch. To name a few spots to look for; tall buildings, walls, garages, sheds, tunnels, thick foliage, underneath bridges and trestles.



Illumination on the subject isn’t going to come directly from the sun. It’s mostly going to come from reflective surfaces. What’s a reflective surface? Just about anything bright. Sand. Rock, Concrete. Buildings. and Water. Open sky is even going to offer some light in. Open sky is referred to by me as a section of sky that is sunless. The sky can have a few clouds when working in open shade. White clouds will reflect light into open shade. Actually some white puffy clouds are your friend when working in open shade. The negative thing about those independent clouds flouting around, is the sun can constantly go in and out of those clouds and it changes the intensity of your reflective light into open shade. This will also effect your exposures.


Color Contamination. The biggest drawback from using open shade is having certain objects contaminate your white balance. Shade itself will photograph more blue. If you have a lot of grass in the sunlight nearby, green will contaminate. To minimize color contamination you must bring in a heavy dose of reflective light that is more in tune with pleasing colors. Silver, gold, tan or white. You can also block the contaminated surfaces with something called a flag. Basically, anything blocking the contaminated reflection of light. I've been known to lay down large white sheets/foam core, to large reflectors on the ground to minimize reflective contamination.


Photography is about give and take. If you haven't figured it out yet; photography will cause you to make sacrifices. You always have to sacrifice something. The key is minimizing the damage by outweighing the negatives with more positives. Nothing is perfect. Show me a perfect image and I will show you what is wrong with it. Open shade itself is not guaranteed for excellent photography. It can be a place to control the light to your advantage at the wrong time of day.


I am not a fan of using speedlites or portable strobes unless I want to shoot sunsets or want to photograph, let's say, a sky underexposed to have that rich look. If I can find natural reflective surfaces I love that or if it's not enough I will bring out my California Sunbounce reflectors in such a place that will redirect the sunlight into my open shade spot.


We recommend the California Sunbounce for your reflector needs. A nice size is the 4x6 Silver and White starter kit. You can purchase it HERE with our affiliate link.

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