7 Tips on Photographing in Midday Sun
It's not a secret that the best time for outdoor photography is the "golden hour", or the time just after sunrise or before sunset, when the sun is low and the light is soft and shadows are long. At noon, on the contrary, the light is harsh and strong, the contrast between light and shadow is at its maximum and everything around looks flat. While middays are usually best for scouting the locations to photograph later, we don't always have this possibility when traveling. Here are 7 ideas on how to make the most out of photographing under the midday sun and get exciting travel photographs.
1. Underexpose rather than overexpose
At noon on a sunny day, contrast is very high: shadows get very dark, while highlights can be easily blown out. While our eyes are quite good at adapting to various kinds of lighting, camera meters don't work the same. It is therefore crucial to constantly keep an eye on the main settings, such as low ISO number, aperture and shutter speed, to make sure they are not at their extreme numbers. To keep your exposure on a safe side, underexpose your images slightly using exposure compensation (-). You can always add more light to the darker areas in post-processing, however, recovering blown-out highlights is usually a trickier task. To make it completely safe, use bracketing and choose the best image later.
2. Opaque subjects: keep the sun behind you
While the best solution for landscape shots would be to leave them for later in the day, if you absolutely want to get a few of those, be aware of the position of the sun in the sky and keep it behind you. This tip usually works best for non-transparent subjects, such as buildings or city skyline. Also remember that the lens hood is your best friend on a sunny day!
3. Translucent subjects: shoot against the light
Bright light works miracles for translucent subjects: it is always fun to place the sun right behind a fountain or a street lamp and see them light up! Increase the contrast by using exposure compensation (-) and go for silhouettes, or add a sparkle to your image by creating a star-burst effect.
4. Look for reflective surfaces
In the city, look around for large reflective surfaces, such as high-rise glass buildings, steel structures, mirrors or shop windows. They will act as large reflectors and diffuse an otherwise harsh light. One of the options is to photograph whatever is reflecting in those surfaces:
Another option is to photograph some details in the light they reflect. In the photo below, notice how soft the bounced light from a nearby building is: hard to believe this photo was taken at midday!
5. Look for details in the shade
Leave landscape and panoramic shots for later and get closer for some interesting details in the shade: they can tell a lot about the place you're visiting. Low depth of field (low f-number) will help to blur the background when photographing close-ups.
6. Use shadows as subjects
Midday is also the time to go abstract and play with shadows! An interesting shadow can very well be a subject of a photograph. Look for rhythm, repetitive or translucent subjects casting the shadows and do not forget to underexpose for more contrast.
7. Increase the contrast on purpose
Photography is a highly creative field and there are no absolute rules. It is therefore fun to get your creative juices flowing by following the principle "if you can't get it right, get it even more wrong". If at noon the contrasts are too strong, it may be time to increase them even more for some unexpected effects.
The photo on the left was taken in the middle of the day, with the sun shining right into the camera. A dramatically increased contrast made the details of the Tower Bridge disappear completely, at the same time highlighting its silhouette surrounded by graphic tree branches. The photo on the right highlights the strong lines and a silhouette of a passer-by without disclosing too many details in the shade.
Try some or all of these tips next time you are photographing at noon in the bright sunlight and share your photos with us!
- 6 Types of Natural Light for Powerful Travel Photos
- Lightroom Tutorial: How to Easily Correct Blown Out Highlights
About the Author
Nadia is passionate about the visual aspect of life and the personalities she meets along the way. Living in the heart of Paris, Nadia never stops exploring the City of Light through her camera and readily shares her knowledge and love for photography.