I prefer your SOOC. The first edit they are just waay too dark. The directional back-lit is best, like Stephanie's picture so they don't look that wash out. I think if you have positioned yourself to the left or right not directly at the sun it wouldn't be as harsh.
-El mommy to B & A
Just chug-chug-chugging along.
I have no clue here, but I too like the vertical crop the best. I think it's something you will have to work at to nail it. I think the ones like Steph's might be a bit easier, and an easier spot to start learning if that makes sense.
I have to give you BIG props to getting three BOYS/MEN to agree to this! GREAT JOB!