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Tips For Photographing in Harsh Light

When I began photography I had absolutely NO idea what I was doing... I knew how to turn the camera on, turn it to auto and push the shutter button... that was about it! I also thought that I needed as much light from the sun as possible, so shooting mid day was "prime time" bring it on 2:30pm!!...... and now that I have experience and educated myself over the years I have come to understand that mid day harsh sunlight is one of the HARDEST to work around, am I right?

Bright sun rays, shadows, squinty eye in your subject and most of the time it's HOT! I have put together some tips for you if you are forced to shoot in the middle of the day in harsh sunlight! Tips that will help you feel confident and get the best out come in your images!


Shoot in Manual Mode

Your camera in auto mode can only capture what’s right in front of it. Instead, try and switch to manual mode and control your own settings. In harsh light, you want to have control of what your camera is doing!


Raise Your Shutter

If you are just starting out in manual mode, in harsh light you will want to know that the higher your shutter speed (1/600, 1/800...) will control how much light is let into the camera. This of this as a blink in your eye... the smaller the lower the shutter speed the more light (open eye) the higher the shutter the less light (quick blink). See the chart below to help visualize this tip!


Find Open Shade

When it's bright and sunny outside, look for shade!! You want soft even shade of a big tree or a building! When your subjects are in that shade, make sure that they are exposed to the sky when they look up and out... meaning you don't want them directly under that tree, you'll want to pull them out so some daylight brightens their faces avoiding dark shadows on their faces! See the photo below taken at 1:00pm, only shade was this willow tree.

This was taken on a bright sunny day at 1:00pm! This tree was a life saver!



Another tip that is fun to do is to backlight your subjects, meaning have the sun behind them with your camera facing the sun. I place the backlight at a 45-degree angle, putting the sun at the back of the subject’s head to help eliminate harsh lighting. This creates a nice soft glow behind your clients heads. Read the next tip that's great to pair with backlighting!

Both of these images are used with the backlighting tip!


Cover Your Lens from Sun Rays

A struggle that can come with backlighting and shooting during harsh sunlight is often we get sun flares in our images! I struggled with this so much at the beginning... at first it was an awesome effect that I thought I was doing on purpose... then I realized that it was a simple error that I didn't know my way around, so I embraced it until I figured out this trick...

When you are photographing your subject you want to make sure the sun is NOT directly hitting your lens! Finding a branch from a tree or a lens hood (click to view what I am talking about) on your lens can help tremendously with haze! So hide that lens from being hit by direct light will be a game changer! See image below!

Right: Sunflare hitting lens Left: Lowered my body to hide my lens with a tree branch

That thing on my arm is a lens hood. I carry it with me to every shoot!


Use a Diffuser

A diffuser is often included with your reflectors, most reflectors will unzip to expose the diffuser. This is the soft white almost transparent piece! If you have an assistant of a sweet family member or parent to hold the diffuser to block the direct sunlight from hitting your subject, that can help so much!! Similar to an umbrella idea but light is softened by the white diffuser!

See the image below to see what a diffuser is (the first translucent one)!


Use a Reflector

Reflectors can be the smallest and easiest way to up level your images! The bouncing of light off of the white reflector in front of your subject can brighten the shadows that backlight and location struggles can cause. Think of when the sun is the most harsh... when it is directly above your subject... causing dark circles under eyes, nose, jawlines... bringing in the reflector angled up will bounce that light up to even out the coverage of light!

You can find TONS of options online for reflectors, but here is the link to the one one I have! Reflector!

I hope these tips help you figure out shoots during the harsh parts of the day! Once your implement these tips into your photography, harsh lighting won't be this scary beast anymore!

Have questions or need help?... Shoot me a message!!



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