Cincinnati Portrait, Wedding & Lifestyle Photography-Breighton & Basette Photography


Embrace The Sun: 5 Tips For Getting Better Photos In Harsh Sunlight


It's no secret that photographers are always 'chasing the light,' because without light we can't create images. In fact, it's often said that instead of using oils or watercolors, photography is the art of 'painting with light.' But oddly, even though we love and need light, photographers also love clouds. Why? Because sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. When that happens, clouds become God's diffuser.

Clouds soften harsh shadows and help to even-out the glare from what can be an otherwise intense sun. So whenever possible, if shooting outdoors, we prefer to photograph on mild overcast days. However, we mere mortals can't control the weather. Which means we often have to work with what is given to us. But if you know how to deal with it, taking photos in harsh sun doesn't have to ruin your day.

So here are some simple tips you can use the next time you're photographing outdoors and the sun seems as if it's giving you too much of a good thing:

1. FIND SOME SHADE. I know that sounds like cheating, but it's not. Sometimes the answer to a problem is to simply avoid the cause of the problem. Find the shadow of a building, a tree, a bus, a large elephant...whatever is around. There's no shame in hiding from the sun. Vampires do it all the time.

2. PLAY WITH THE SHADOWS. Contrast is key to photography. It adds depth and interest, and on a bright sunny day, there are always shadows to play with. Take a photo of the shadow that your subject is casting onto a wall, place half of your subject in the shade and the other half in the light, or emphasize the angular nature of your subject's jawbone by turning her at a 45° angle towards the sun. Ever since you were a child chasing your shadow down the sidewalk, you knew shadows simply looked cool. So have fun with them. But if you want to be an adult about it you can probably come up with some intellectual and artistic analogy about the light and dark sides of mankind's dual nature to explain away your photo.

3. USE YOUR FLASH. The tools don't make the photographer, the photographer makes the tools. Your flash is one of those tools, and it can help you out when you're faced with a bright sun. First, manually set your exposure to your subject's environment, then point your flash at your subject and incrementally increase your flash power until it closely matches your subject's environment and appropriately fills the shadows. What is 'appropriate' is up to you and your own photographic eye. If your camera doesn't automatically do if for you, it may take a bit of trial and error to get the settings right, but it's worth practicing this technique manually (which is how we do it) because no camera can see inside your mind to perfectly produce your ideas.

4. TAKE THE PHOTO AS A BLACK & WHITE. Sometimes, when we take a photo, we already know that we want to develop it in black and white, and when that happens, we usually pay extra attention to contrast. Because black and white photos remove colors and turn everything into varying shades of light and dark, they're especially well-suited for high-contrast, harsh-light photos. By combining some of the techniques already mentioned above into a black and white photograph, you can make some really powerful and striking images. Besides, everyone 'knows' black and white photos are inherently more meaningful and artistic...right?

5. EXPERIMENT. This may seem obvious, but it's easy to forget. Out of all of these tips, this is the best way to get good images in harsh sun. Every subject, every environment, every day, every photographer, and every image is different. Sure, there are tons more techniques we could give you, but the truth is that there's no guaranteed trick to always getting a good photo in harsh sun. You can follow each one of these tips and still produce a bad photo...but you can also ignore them all and make something magical. You won't know until you grab some sunscreen, get out there, and experiment.

- Breighton & Basette