How to Shoot Overcast Portraits -Using Canon EOS R6 EF 35mm F1.4 L Mark ii (San Francisco 4-outfits)
In this blog post, I am going to walk through my San Francisco photoshoot with Rosina and explaining the location choices and how I used the overcast weather for portraits. The weather was an overcast day and perfect for moody portraits. I was using Canon EOS R6 EF 35mm F1.4 L Mark ii for this photoshoot since 35mm is more versatile and flexible. The 1.4 still gives nice bokeh for the background.
Overcast Day Portraits
Legion of Honor classy style
There is a saying "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." When the weather gives you overcast, make good use of this type of weather for your portrait :) Especially during summer time in San Francisco, the ocean fog always creates overcast weather in San Francisco, creating some nice moody vibes for the portraits.
Here are some benefits of shooting under overcast weather:
It's better for outfit's color to pop. In general, the background overall tone is grey, using red outfit will have color pop for the effect. Also, using black dress like the picture above have a nice match for the grey background.
A big soft light box above - the sky is like a huge soft box, you can shoot at more angles and don't have to worry about strong shadows on the face area. See the example below:
As you have seen above, the sky provide nice soft light all around. Even when the model turn to certain angle, the overcast light can still cover the back of the portrait. The only thing I want to point out is the metering mode on the camera. When using the multi metering, sometimes it tries to have more exposure than usual because of the big white area in the sky. Make sure to have the exposure compensation to be adjusted to -1/3 to -2 depending on each of your situation.
Our first outfit for the photoshoot is casual outfit when sneakers. I chose a hiking path walking down the hill to create the hiking environment context in the back.
As you can see in the photo above, the context of the hiking path occupies about 1/4 of the overall photo. Then, I position the full body in between those two trees for the framing. The overcast sky nicely stands agains the black color of the trees to create some branch shapes on the top half of the image.
Next, I walked closer to Rosina to shoot a half body portraits with the camera tilted up. It's about 20 degrees tilted up and this helps position the head of the portrait in the sky area. The benefit of using the 35mm F1.4 is that it produces the right amount of blur bokeh for the background, but still let the viewers know the overall shape of the tree.
Legion of Honor classy style
After finishing the casual outfit, we switch to a classy dress. I wanted a background that can match this classy dress style. Legion of Honor museum in San Francisco will be a good choice. Lots of people taken wedding photos and senior portraits here. The columns usually create nice leading lines for the composition.
Here is the first photo for this location. As you can see, there is no strong sunlight. The overcast weather acts like a soft light box and the column limits the light direction from the right to left. That's why I asked Rosina to lean on the wall, but still keeps the head slightly angle a little bit toward the column side. Not too much tilt, just slightly around 10 degree will have enough soft light on the face.
On the second shot, I asked Rosina to use the back against the wall so that the front of her body will have more soft light on her. As a comparison, you can see the light is much better on front of the portrait because the overcast light is directed by the columns from the right to left. Below is the side by side example of these two different poses:
The third way I am going to shoot the overcast light on this location is to walk outside the columns and point the camera the same way as the light direction. Please see the examples below:
As you have seen these two examples above, I myself stood outside of the columns and pointed the camera toward the columns, which was the same direction as the overcast light traveling through the columns. In this way, the whole body will have evenly distributed lighting.
After finishing the shoot in Legion of Honor, we travelled to costal area in SF near the Cliff House restaurant. The outfit we are going to shoot was a white dress with red flower pattern. The red pattern and white dress will match the overall tones of the cliff house wall. Examples below:
These two photos were not shot at wide open F1.4. They were at F2 and F2.2 because as I mentioned earlier the overexposure on the overcast sky. I needed to stop down a bit to have the right exposure on it.
Lastly, we went down to the beach area and shoot our last outfit - the black dress. As I mentioned before, the black dress will match the mood for the overcast weather. I am going to show couple examples and explain the location choices below:
In the photo above, I saw a seagull was flying into the frame. I tried to time it so that when it flew from left to right, I captured it at the upper right corner so that it's at the same side of the portrait's head direction. It created a balance from the right upper space to the portrait.
Next, I asked Rosina to sit on the sand dune right next to the grass area. The grass on the left pointing to the right creating a leading line to lead the viewer's eye from the left side to the portrait.
Toward the end of the photoshoot, we decided to do couple more shots at the wave. The advantage of shooting overcast at the edge of the waves is that it created a nice reflection below the feet as you can see the two examples above. It added a new element for your composition kind of like using mirror to create an extra layer/dimension.
If you want to see more samples from this shoot, please check out this video below:
In summary, overcast weather can have many different advantages for your portraits photoshoots. The color and skin tones will be better because of softer bounce light from the cloud. Also, it allows you to shoot more creative angles because the big sky light box have light from all around directions.
Canon EOS R6: https://amzn.to/3ykQoFc
EF 35mm F1.4 L Mark ii: https://amzn.to/3liYnyK
Thanks for reading :) More photos will be uploaded in my Instagram account: @caliallstaring.