Light is an essential element in photography, if not the most important. But sometimes, the excess of said light can cause the opposite effect of that sought, when the light arrives in large quantities to the sensor of our cameras, which produces what is known as overexposure. When taking photos in bright sunlight, the image appears completely white and you lose all the most important elements of the scene or of the photographed face. That’s why, today, we’re going to show you tips for taking excellent photos in direct sunlight.
Our tips for taking pictures in direct sunlight
As we have seen, light is an essential element for obtaining professional shots, but to do so, you have to learn to master it completely, know how to use it on each scene and know how much light to let pass through the sensor in depending on the photography discipline practiced or the effect you want to produce. Hence the great importance of knowing how to measure it on our photos, in order to be able to work at any time with a good exposure.
Another problem that can be encountered when taking pictures in direct sunlight is backlighting. This effect, which depends on the angle of the shot and our location in relation to the sun, results in a completely dark subject and therefore a loss of the most important details. Although the resulting effect can also result in attractive silhouettes, it is certainly not the one you were looking for when you decided to organize an outdoor photo shoot.
So how do you take great photos in direct sunlight? By fully controlling the intensity and direction of the light in your work area, while changing position and angle, either by creating your own shadows using photo accessories such as reflectors or diffusers, between other options that we will present to you here later.
1. Use natural light
As you well know, the light is not the same throughout the day. It is always advisable to take portrait sessions or group photos first thing in the morning, when the sun is not yet beating directly, in order to avoid pronounced shadows on the faces or, conversely, to work on the afternoon, during the famous golden hour. But above all, care must be taken to avoid those hours of the day when the sun is located at its highest point in the sky, not only because it is a question here of taking photos in direct sunlight but also because this intensity causes very harsh shadows on the models’ faces on the stage and creates annoying backlighting, as we have seen, to the detriment of the expected natural appearance.
If you have no other choice but to shoot when the sun is causing a higher degree of backlighting, we advise you to try to reduce the antistatic shadows as much as possible by using a polarizing filter. Polarizing filters prevent distracting reflections from appearing in your photos, while enhancing image contrast and saturation.
Once you have installed your CPL, look for the perspective that does not cause backlighting to the image, or at least reduces this effect. It is necessary to try, as far as possible, to place the subject in such a way that it does not generate superfluous and unsightly shadows. Indeed, if you take a portrait at this time of day, the sun beating down from above can produce very strong shadows, to give tired eyes or rough shadows on the face, or even create double chins. or even the appearance of unattractive shadows. So before shooting, check that there are no annoying shadows on the essential parts of the face, such as the eyes, the nose or the lips.
2. Create your own shadow
Imagine that you are on vacation and that you want to take pictures of your children, they will not necessarily pose during the times that you consider the best for the amount of sun present or not, so you will have to be able to count on your own resources.
If you want to shoot in direct sunlight, the shadows caused are very harsh, and you cannot change the perspective or angle of your model, you can create a shadow yourself, either with a towel, a T-shirt or fabric that you have on hand, in short, anything that can eliminate excess light on the face. It will be useful so that the sun does not spoil your photos, although it is even better to use accessories specially designed for these occasions, such as a translucent umbrella or a diffuser.
What is important, when we want to create our own shadow on our work scene, is that it be continuous and dense in order to avoid the appearance of contrasts and shadows and lights that could cause the loss of details for take pictures in direct sunlight.
Shadows and lights are essential factors in achieving beautiful portraits, but there are also other qualities that allow your work to express emotions and convey feelings to the viewer.
3. Help yourself with these photo props
As we said, you can create your own shadows or use your camera equipment to take pictures in direct sunlight. But there are specific accessories that will help you work comfortably in excessively bright places and that will also be of great use to you for different photo disciplines and even for different work scenes, such as a studio, for example.
We are first talking here about folding reflectors, these accessories that allow you to have absolute control over the light coming from the sun. They are responsible for reflecting the light on your sessions to avoid shadows on the face, while modifying the color temperature of the image to give a more natural appearance to the skin. And since it’s a folding lighting accessory, you can take it to all your photo shoots with no problem.
Then there are neutral density (ND) filters. ND filters reduce the amount of light entering your camera’s sensor, so you can shoot in direct sunlight and use long exposure times without worrying about your image being overexposed. It is for this reason that they are not only the best allies for landscape photography but also an excellent option for any discipline that involves working in excessively bright conditions.
ND filters generally include in their label a number related to the number of light stops they retain. Thus, an ND of 1 stop (ND2) lets through half of the light that would reach the sensor without the use of the filter, for example.
Last but not least, an essential accessory for any photographer, amateur or professional: the lens hood. The lens hood is the accessory that is placed on the lens and whose function is to reduce the appearance of reflections and flares on the objective and the image. Hence its great utility outdoors, especially when taking pictures in direct sunlight. Go for more now.
Another advantage of installing a lens hood on your lens is the protection it provides against possible scratches and splashes. Not to mention that it’s a really compact accessory, so you can take it anywhere without worry.
4. Use fill flash
None of the advice provided above has helped you to take pictures in direct sunlight? If you are shooting portraits outdoors and your model’s face remains dark due to backlighting in the image, we recommend using your flash in fill mode.
And there, you must think that we then obtain a scene with too much light. But be aware that with this trigger mode, the harshness of shadows caused by sunlight will be lessened. The fill flash will blur or even reduce the shadows produced on the scene.
To prevent well-exposed areas from becoming overexposed, reduce the intensity of the flash light for a more natural result.
If you work in TTL mode, correct the exposure downwards : -1EV, -2EV or -3EV. And if you use the manual mode, moving away from the photographed model reduces the power of the flash. You can also close the iris to prevent such a large amount of light from entering the camera’s sensor.