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11 Great Tips For Taking Photos In Direct Sunlight

March 6, 2013 by Michael Gabriel

Taking photos in direct sunlight is often like oil and water, right? For a lot of beginners and even advanced photographers, direct sunlight is a no-no when taking photographs and they often avoid it.

In fact, one of the first tip someone might give you about taking pictures in direct sunlight is don’t.

Direct Sunlight
photo by Florian Forster

That is to say that if you can avoid taking pictures during times when the sun is at its brightest, then maybe you should. For example, if you can move your subject into the shade, then you could easily avoid the high contrast, the highlights that are all wrong, the strong shadows, the oversaturated colors, or the lens flaring. These are usually the problems that crop up when you take pictures under the direct light or rays of the sun.

There are times, though, when it is just inevitable and you would need to shoot under bright, glaring daylight. Perhaps the family is at the beach or you have a client that wants to shoot outdoors at noon. How are you going to do it?

Here are some tips on taking great photographs in direct sunlight:

1. Create your own shade

Another way to avoid direct sunlight is by creating your own shade. If you cannot move the subject into a shaded area, then you could just create it. You can use an umbrella, a big cardboard or just about anything that would cast a shadow on your subject and block out the intense light of the sun.

2. Move!

If you cannot move the subject, maybe you could move yourself so that you could take better photos. Changing your position would allow you to change the angle in which the light hits your subject. It could also allow you to get a better photograph by presenting your subject in another perspective. For example, instead of shooting a subject head on, you could crouch lower and shoot up. Or you could find an elevated platform and shoot down. Further, you could move around the subject and try shooting at different angles.

3. Wait

Sometimes, just waiting for the sun to come down a little will do wonders for your shots. This is why photographs taken at sunset or sunrise are great. Not only will you get to avoid the sunlight coming from directly overhead, you can get amazing colors as well.

If there are clouds overhead, you might want to wait until these clouds cover the sun a little bit more. You would have to shoot fast or hope that the clouds stay there for a very long time.

4. Use fill flash

Fill flash is very helpful when you have strong shadows on your subjects, or when your subject is underexposed. This usually happens when your camera thinks that there is enough light for the photograph and subsequently underexposes your subject, ultimately having them in silhouettes with a very bright background.

So what do you do?

The easiest way to overcome this is to shoot with flash. Using a fill flash will allow you to “fill in” the dark parts with light. Fill flash adds to the direct sunlight in your photo so that those darker shadows are lit up and the subjects do not come out as underexposed.

This is also helpful in eliminating shadows caused by your subjects’ nose or hat or sun visor, if he or she is wearing one.

5. Reflect the light

If you do not want to use fill flash or if that is not enough to sufficiently light up your subjects, you might need a reflector to do the same thing.

6. Use a filter

There are two filters that could help you tame direct sunlight. One is the neutral density filter, which reduces the amount of light getting into your camera, and the other is the polarizing filter, which does the same thing. A polarizing filter can also reduce reflections and help you have more control over the colors in your photograph.

7. Use the lens hood

Some of the more expensive cameras available now come with a lens hood. Use it to cut down lens flare. If you do not have a lens hood, you can create one with a simple cardboard and some duct tape. Or you could just use your hand to shield your lens from the light!

8. Meter your shots correctly

Metering your shots in direct sunlight can be very difficult. You can meter off the subject to ensure that it is adequately exposed. Take some sample shots and check these to make some adjustments.

A good idea when it comes to metering during a midday photo shoot is to use spot metering then choosing the main subject. Or you could try to find a middle point, somewhere that is not too bright and not too dark and use that to meter off. This will ensure that every element of your photograph is bright enough to see.

9. Mind your white balance

Although you can probably Photoshop your photos later, you would still want to experiment with different white balance settings to see which ones are right for your photos.

10. Avoid close-ups. Go wide instead

Photographing your subjects up close under direct sunlight is an invitation for trouble. Shadows would be more pronounced and maybe using a fill flash might not make it a better photograph. As much as possible, go wide when taking photos under the midday sun.

11. Go for the silhouettes

When we say go for the silhouettes, do we mean giving up? Not really.

Silhouettes are very dramatic or very mysterious if you do it right. If you cannot get great shots of your subjects in direct sunlight, then maybe you could do great having your subject in silhouette.

To take a silhouette, you will need to set your camera’s exposure on the brightest part of the scene, and this should be the background, not your subject.

Be sure that the silhouette is very distinct. If you are taking the silhouette of a person, then there is no sense in making him or her carry a bag or something that will only add clutter to the silhouetted figure. Another tip when taking silhouettes of people is to take their profiles. This means that they should be standing sideways from your camera and not looking straight on.

Your Turn To Talk

With these tips, here’s hoping direct sunlight will not intimidate you from taking wonderful photographs! Please chime in and leave a comment below!

Michael Gabriel

About the author: Michael Gabriel

Michael Gabriel L. Sumastre is an experienced freelance writer for hire. He has been professionally writing articles, blogs posts and tech content since 2005. Michael loves to take pictures of the countryside when he is touring with his motorcycle. He maintains his professional writing portfolio and personal blog at www.TheFinestWriter.com or on Google+.

  • Sabuj Sengupta

    I have seen snaps where on a bright well lit seabeach and without any shade, the subject is properly exposed while the background is white washed….how do i achieve this result.

    • http://contrastly.com/ Contrastly

      Well, one way to achieve this would be to properly expose your subject and if the background has a lot of light, it should appear washed out.

      Of course you’ll need to put your camera in manual or aperture priority mode to achieve this. And you will also want to use spot or partial metering on your camera, and not center-weighted.

      I hope this helps!