How to Shoot In Open Shade

How to Shoot In Open Shade | Mastin Labs

Here, we'll give you tips on how to find and use open shade on your next outdoor shoot to tame harsh light and shadows and get beautiful skin tones.


Most simply put, open shade is an area that blocks direct sunlight but is still illuminated from the surrounding light. Learning how to utilize it will allow you to shoot almost anywhere at any time of the day. Add a few other tools and techniques, and open shade can become lighting bliss!


Look for open shade by looking at the ground.

How can I tell it is open shade?

At any part of the day, even at high noon, you can find open shade. The easiest way to spot open shade is to look at the shadows on the ground. Common places are the shadowed side of buildings, signs, patio umbrellas, etc. 

What are the benefits of shooting in open shade?

Shooting in harsh light means that you'll also have harsh shadows. Full sun is tricky to shoot in, at best. It can certainly be done, but that's for another article.

By having your subject(s) step into the open shade, you take what was harsh sunlight and turn it into gorgeous, soft light. This means no dark shadows under your subject's eyes, nor having them stare directly into the sun for even lighting.

Shot midday in open shade. By Chris Daniels, edited with Mastin Labs Gold 200 preset from the Adventure Everyday preset pack.

How to Shoot In Open Shade

Shooting in open shade evens out the light, but you also run the risk of flat light. This is easy to avoid. All you need is to know where you can place your subject within the shade.

  • Keep in mind where your light source is coming from. Open shade light is much softer and less directional, but the light within those shadows still has to come from somewhere. Try to pinpoint where the source is.
  • Use reflected light to create dimension and contrast. One of the best and most common scenarios of this is shooting between two buildings. The subject stands in the open-shade shadows of one building and is illuminated by the reflected light bouncing off of the building across from them.

Subject stands in open shade, facing towards reflected light source.

  • Have your subject face the light source.¬†The rule of thumb would be to have your subject look at where the light is being reflected from, but you could also use the reflected light as a side light.
  • Place your subject close to the edge of the shadow. Placing it on the edge of the shadow means that the bright light outside of the shadow area will be more likely to illuminate it without shining directly onto it. This helps to add dimension.

How to meter in open shade.

When metering for exposure in open shade areas, meter for the shadows. You will already be working to maintain dynamic range and not lose contrast. Metering for the shadows helps your highlights and makes skin tones stand out.

If you're using your camera's meter, aim for something middle-gray, such as concrete or even grass that's in shadows. If you're using a handheld meter, take a reading on the shadows beneath the subject's chin. It's also helpful to angle the handheld meter down at 45¬ļ on this reading.

In open shade and reflecting light back onto the subject

Mind Your White Balance

Auto white balance doesn't always do well in open shade. Try manually setting the white balance or changing the settings to shade mode.

If you're new to the idea of shooting in open shade, with some practice, I'm sure that this will become one of your favorite techniques!

If you're already utilizing it, what are some ways that you like to use open shade? Share them with us in the comments below!

You can also share with us and the rest of the Mastin Labs community in our Facebook group! If you're not a member or have never posted there, we would love to have you!