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Tips for photographing in bright midday light | 31 Days of Photo Tips, Day 8

Yesterday we talked about adding light when the ambient light wasn’t enough for your shot. Today we’re going to talk about the opposite end of the spectrum.

We’ve heard it again and again – shoot an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset to get warm, pretty glowy light. Well, yes. That’s perfect; but you won’t always have such gimmes to work with, particularly if you plan to shoot people.

So let’s talk about the worst lighting condition possible: Full bright light. Midday. Sunny day. Glaring light.

There is a misconception among new camera owners that sunny days are best. But, in the photographic world, sunny days are the devil. The devil, I tell ya.

Squinty eyes, blown out highlights, white skies, the risk overexposure is high. And there ain’t noooo retrievin’ of them pixels.

But there will be events – birthday parties, weddings, field trips, scheduled shoots, unavoidable times where you can’t just order up a sunset shoot. How can you make the best of craptastic shooting conditions without using strobes or flash?

Be prepared! Ideally you’ll find open shade – under a tree, next to a building, tucked under an eave – but if not?

Make your own open shade.

Not all of us want to invest in a Scrim-Jim diffuser and a full-stop diffuser panel, despite its total awesomeness. So we can improvise. We can use a large reflector to block the light.

make-open-shade

Resulting image:

bright midday light

If you don’t have a large reflector, there’s an even less expensive solution!

clamp a bedsheet or shower curtain as a diffuser

For pennies on the dollar, you can achieve similar results with some clamps, an opaque shower curtain, or a plain white bed sheet. For really bright days, you can use black or navy bed sheets to really stop down the light. Just be careful to avoid colors so it doesn’t color cast light on your subject.

Keep clamps, a bed sheet or two, and a shower curtain folded tightly in your camera bag. Simply clamp up the sheets or curtain on trees, fences – or grab two people to each hold a corner.

It’s amazing how you can change the light for less than $15.

What tips do you have for shooting in bright daylight?

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Comments

  1. Thanks so much for these tips. So helpful! I took pics of my preggo sis last week and happened to hit it right around 11:30am. Eesh…bad lighting. Found the “warmify” option to help a lot during editing. :) love the idea of using a shade, though. Thanks!!!

  2. Find the back-lighting solution too…. Of course, you can’t have every single shot in a session be back-lit, but it’s an awesome creative solution for a couple of unique images.

    Great tips Darcy – as always! I really enjoy seeing the pictures of you and your hot hubby in action. :)

  3. Great tip, beautiful shot! OK, if you were going to set a custom white balance in this situation, where would you measure? I thought you were supposed to stand near your subject and point the camera toward where the photographer will stand, but I feel like I’ve gotten some inaccurate WB that way. I think this setup is a good example of where the photog and subject are in 2 different colors of light… Thanks!

    • Since the color temperature of light is pretty consistent, we metered using an Expo disk pointing toward the light source (sun). I didn’t adjust the image temp in post – so what you see is how it was shot using that method.

      :)

  4. Thanks Darcy!!

  5. Thank you very much for this! question- with the grass in the backgroud being blown (as in the first shot with proper exposure on the subject) how do you bring it back to what you have in your final image?? This is one of the areas I find constantly challenging!

    • Directly behind her isn’t nearly as blown out as the part to camera-left of her. See how there is more detail in the grasses toward camera-right?

      But layer-masking a curves layer can help pull that light down a bit.

  6. timely advise… i have a 12:30 photo shoot tomorrow, and it’s supposed to be “beautiful” and sunny! i tried to talk mom into another time, but alas… 12:30 it is. {fingers crossed!}

  7. Mama Monkey says:

    Here’s a question somewhat related to this post! I took a few shots of my kids over the summer close to sunset and the lighting turned their skin orange. Any suggestions for how to get rid of it in the editing process and how to avoid it in the future? Thanks :)

    • Custom white balance helps – and color casting can be fixed in programs like ACR, Lightroom or Photoshop. I have a video tutorial coming up next week about fixing color casts. I hope it will be helpful! :)

  8. I used the white sheet idea at a shoot this weekend, and it was a godsend!! It worked beautifully!! Thank you so much for these tips–I valued every single one!

  9. Becky Donathan says:

    Great idea with the sheets and shower curtain. Never would have thought about something as simple at that. Thanks for the tip!

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