How to take photographs in the mid day sun

Mid day sunlight is a challenge even for the most skilled photographers. Learn how to create images even when the light is at its worst.

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Main image by Samuel Thompson

Most photographers will insist on putting their cameras away when the sun is high in the sky and shining brightly. There is good reason for this, with that type of lighting it can be very difficult to capture compositions without heavy contrast and loss of detail on either the darks or highlights. However, there are ways to overcome this issue depending on your subject and scene. Here are a few tips and tricks to get you thinking.

Shoot black and white

When shooting for black and white there are a few differences that can advantageous for mid day photography. The temperature of the light is no longer important and the heavily contrasted shadows that are produced by direct sunlight can be beneficial. In most situations, not all, as a photographer you will be looking to utilise diffuse lighting in order to reproduce colour correctly and allow the tones of your image to roll smoothly into each other. However, with black and white photography, light is your only medium. There are no colours to play with, so having strong shadows and bright highlights can help produce extremely compelling results.

Shoot under trees

If you still want to shoot colour or just want a more diffuse light then try shooting under trees. Have a look for foliage where some light is still penetrating. The dappled lighting effect can be yield some stunning results. This can be brilliant for portrait photography and beauty shots as the light is softened allowing skin tones be reproduced well.

Image by DanaTentis from Pixabay

Create your own gobo

A gobo can be a great option if you can’t, or don’t want to, use trees to diffuse the light. Gobos are essentially anything you put between a light source (in this case the sun) and your subject. Use a small piece of foliage to dapple the light in an area where trees aren’t doing the job for you. Many either items can create interesting effects too.

Bring out the reflector

One of the major issues with midday sunlight is that the areas that are in shadow are very heavily contrasted with the areas that are lit. This means that the camera is unable to correctly expose for both the dark and light areas of the image. Use a reflector to bounce some of that direct light back onto the shaded side of your subject and lift the shadows enough to smooth out the transition between the dark and light tones.

Use an ND filter to bring back the depth of field

If you are shooting in bright daylight then one issue that you are likely to face is the inability to open your aperture wide enough without over exposing. An ND filter with solve this issue and is something that you should always have in your bag. By attaching an ND filter to your lens you can reduce the amount of light entering your camera without affecting the colours on your image. Variable ND filters are a great option as these allow you to increase or decrease the effect they have.

The Gobe variable ND filter is great choice for amateurs and professionals.

Use bracketed exposures

If the subject that you are shooting is relatively motionless, such as a landscape, then bracketing can be a great option. This ensures that you can expose from the darkest to the brightest part of your image. Bracketing works by taking the same frame at different levels of exposure and then blending them to reveal the correctly exposed parts of each image. Many cameras have a built in function doing this. But even without camera with this functionality you should be able to manually create one.

Bracketed exposures allow you to capture much more detail in heavily contrasted scenes.

Use a flash

This one seems a little bit counter intuitive. However, much like using a reflector a flash can provide the fill light that you need to smooth out the tones in your image. If you place your subject with the sunlight coming from behind them then you can use your flash to overpower the sunlight and throw the background into darkness. You will, of course, need a powerful flash in order to pull this one off.

Final note

In many cases you will probably find that using a combination of these effects will produce the best results. There many other similar techniques that will help you diffuse the light and even out the transitions between the tones. Using a bit of imagination and creativity you’ll be able to overcome the difficulties of shooting in such conditions and produce work to be proud of.

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1 thought on “How to take photographs in the mid day sun

  1. Black and white is my go to for midday sun. The photos just look better and the contrast actually helps. Anyone used a flash in daylight?!

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