Soft light is the most flattering all purpose light for most portraits. It enhances good features and minimizes flaws in the skin. Some of the best soft light is outside on “cloudy bright” days. Those are the days that there is enough cloud cover that you don’t cast a shadow but not so many clouds that it is dark and gloomy. Another test of a good cloudy bright day is to see if you can look at the sky without squinting. If you squint there aren’t enough clouds.
Soft light is the easiest light to work with. It is the most forgiving. On a cloudy bright day your subject can face any direction and the light doesn’t change. You can pick any background you want without worrying about the direction your subject is facing. You should leave the sky out of your photos on cloudy bright days.
Sunlight on the other hand, is hard light and looks harsh on a human face. I asked Ava to shoot in the sunlight as an example of what not to do when you are doing portraits. There are hard shadows and Ava’s eyes are just about lost in this photo. Compare her eyes in this photo to her eyes in the soft light photo.
If you are new to portrait photography the best way to start out is to photograph people outside in the soft light of a cloudy bright day. As you gain experience you can work with other kinds of light.
There are times when sunlight works really well. When the sun is low in the sky and you put it behind your subject, the backlight on long hair can be quite wonderful.