Taking Pictures In Bright Sunlight

Why is taking pictures in bright sunlight such a bad idea?

Taking Pictures In Bright Sunlight
Too much sunlight made this a bad shot. The shirt is ok, but the face has too many shadows and the sky is too bright (it was a beautiful blue on this day).

Most photographers (yours truly included) recommend avoiding the bright sunlight of midday when taking pictures.

There are a couple of reasons that this is avoided as much as possible by pro photographers. Photos can have harsh shadows or blown out highlights (blown highlights are areas of the picture that are totally white and without detail). Bright sunlight can also cause lens flare, which is when there are little unwanted spots of light in the picture.

But what do you do when taking pictures in bright sunlight can’t be avoided?

Here are a few ways to help get better pictures in undesirable circumstances when sunlight is a problem.

Try To Diffuse The Light When Taking Pictures In Bright Sunlight

This means to soften the light. It will reduce the harsh shadows.

Professionals might do this by using a translucent photo disc. This is a piece of cloth stretched over a frame that allows some light through. It is kind of like having a single cloud cover the sun for you.

These discs are available at a fairly cheap price, but you can substitute a white umbrella. White is the best color because if you use a colored umbrella, you will change the color of the subject being photographed. However, if colored umbrellas are all you have, they are way better than taking the picture with harsh shadows and/or squinting eyes.

Use A Fill Flash To Conquer The Shadows

When shadows are wrecking havoc on your subject, add more light to eliminate the shadows. When you purposely use your flash in bright sunlight, it fills in the shadowed areas to make a nicer picture.

Add A Reflector To Lessen The Effects Of Too Much Contrast

If fill flash is not something you have on your camera or it is not working the way you want, try using a reflector to bounce sunlight onto the areas where shadows are too dark. This is a great way to counteract the effects of bright sunlight that adds too much contrast.

Reflectors can be purchased quite inexpensively. In fact a five-in-one package of photo discs can be had for a very reasonable price.

You can also make your own reflector by using a piece of white foam board or attaching some aluminum foil to a piece of cardboard. The reflectors can be white or silver. Some are even gold to give a different color cast of early morning light.

Choose The Right Metering Setting On Your Camera

Taking pictures in bright sunlight with a polarizing filter
Using a polarizing filter AND the right metering on your camera can help a lot. This picture was taken soon after the one above, but it turned out so much better.

Most newer cameras have the ability to choose from 3 different metering modes. For bright sunlight, choose the spot metering mode. This will sample the light from the center focal point and try to compensate for too much light. This may end up having the lighter areas of the picture blown out, but the subject will be properly exposed.

Add A Lens Filter When Taking Pictures In Bright Sunlight

The polarizing filter is a handy tool for filtering out some of the sunlight. It does a job similar to your polarized sunglasses. In fact, in the absence of a polarizing lens filter, you can try holding the lens of your sunglasses in front of your camera lens and accomplish the same effect.

There are also Neutral Density filters available. These are pieces of glass that have a gray coating which cuts down the amount of light entering your camera. Neutral density filters are more advanced, but they offer an interesting alternative for shooting pictures in bright sunlight.

Change Your Perspective To Change The Effects Of Light And Shadows

Sometimes you can improve your chances for a good shot by simply moving your camera. You can avoid lens flare and harsh shadows. This can be done by looking very closely at the way the sunlight is hitting the subject as you change position.

Try moving around the subject as well as getting higher or lower with your camera.

This technique can have the added benefit of increasing the creativity of your shot too. You might surprise yourself if you are forced to move around a little bit to take a shot that you would not normally have considered.

Try Shooting Silhouettes

You can just “go with the flow.” Because your subject is coming out too dark, just go with it and allow your camera to take the dark subject. You can help by metering on the lighter area of the photo, thus forcing a silhouette.

Of course, all of these techniques will turn out better if you practice. It is pretty unreasonable to think you can show up and start shooting in difficult light without knowing what to expect from your camera.

Practice, practice, practice. Then make mental notes (or even write them down) so you are ready when the situation arises.