Tips for Photographing in the Midday Sun
As photographers, we obviously would like to photography when the light is optimum. The golden hour, the blue hour, sunsets, sunrises—these are all times of day when the light can turn gorgeous and can result in exquisite images.
But, what do you do when the only time you’re able to photograph has harsh midday sun beaming down with unpleasant shadows?
It’s simple: You take pictures.
Don’t let less-than-desirable ambient light ruin what could be a fantastic and rewarding photo outing.
Recently, I had allotted a Saturday to make pictures. Early morning and late evening are wonderful time for photos, but I had a lot of time during the day and I wanted to maximize my time by heading to a small nearby town to “see what I see” as I like to say.
On this particular day, that town happened to be the home of the annual National Trout Festival—Kalkaska, Michigan.
The only dilemma was that the weather forecast called for sun all day. There was a time when I’d get into a funk and choose to simply not take pictures. “If I can’t have perfect light, what’s the point?”, I’d tell myself.
After having this internal conversation with myself many times, I told myself that it was time to overcome the obstacle of harsh light and to get creative with my camera.
You know what happened?
Photographing during midday sun can be great, and I found this out to be true. That’s what happened.
It did require some work to make my images pleasing. First, it’s important to pay attention to shadows. One of my favorite methods of photographing from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. or beyond is try to minimize the shadows as much as possible. I’ll try to find compositions that allow me to avoid shadows as much as possible. Another technique I’ll use is to photographing using film and to expose for the shadows. This leaves detail in the shadows and in the highlights as well, if it’s done correctly.
My camera was a rangefinder and my film speed was ISO 400. That’s a faster speed than I’d really prefer in full sunlight, but I’ve been using ISO 400 for everything so that I can become more accustomed to it, and that’s also the film I had in the camera at the time. I was forced to use a faster shutter speed than I’d prefer, but that’s no big deal.
Now, this can be done with digital as well. When I’m using digital equipment, I make sure to work the shadows in post processing so that they’re not so dark. One suggestion that makes this easier is to make sure you have a good exposure at the start.
Digital cameras are capable of a lot of latitude, but a proper exposure can really help during post processing, so try to nail this out in the field.
Speaking of shadows, another technique to use in midday sun is to photograph in shadows. Some of my favorite light is soft, diffused light on a cloudy day. Shadows can provide that same diffused light. I’ve photographed portraits of people during the middle of the day. What makes it possible is to find a spot in complete shade. By doing this, I know I’ll have a location that will have as even a lighting as possible on my subject’s face.
Finally, a good technique to use while photographing in situations with high-contrast light, is to try to make images with simple and clean backgrounds. I’ve found that trees can often exaggerate already-harsh-light conditions. By finding scenes that have as few distractions and extraneous elements as possible, you can make pleasing images.
There are many elements that go into making images. Light I said, excellent light is really important to making amazing pictures. But, don’t let bad lighting stop you from being creative.
The next time you see some harsh midday sun heading your way, don’t worry about it and simply go out and make images. You may be pleasantly surprised at the great results you achieve.