Taking photos in the midday sun

Midday sun

Strong downward sun creates shadows that obscure form and detail. Photo by Gail Bjork.

When taking outside photos, it’s usually best to avoid taken them in the middle-of the day when the sunlight is at a high angle. There are good reasons to do so.

Midday sunlight creates harsh shadows and highlights that will severely test your camera’s ability to capture tones. You’ll either contend with blown out highlights that lack any detail, or blacked-in shadow areas. Fixing one creates the other.

Additionally, the strong downward direction of the light will create shadows that tend to obscure the form of whatever it is you’re shooting. Scenery will look flat. Faces will have deep shadows in the eye sockets – producing an unflattering “raccoon” or “skull” appearance. Midday light also carries a blue cast that affects the colors in your photos.

Minimize negative effects of high angle sunlight

If you have to shoot in this type of light, here are some things that can minimize (but not eliminate) the problems associated with high angle sunlight.

For scenery, the use of a circular polarizing filter can diminish harsh reflections from the intense light and restore some color to the scene, particularly in the greens and blues. Additionally, the use of a warming filter (either on-camera or applied in a photo editing program later) can warm up the overall color and liven skin tones.

If you’re shooting portraits, consider bringing your subject into a shaded area. If that’s not possible, use flash or a reflector to help fill in hard shadows.

When midday light works

Bermuda rooftops

Bermuda rooftops by James Jordan

Now, having painted midday light as evil, there are times when midday light works for and not against a photographer.

Love those photos of tropical beaches with white sand and turquoise waters? Chances are those were shot at midday. The extreme downward angle of the sunlight penetrates the water and brings out the color. Plus the water and sand act as reflectors, helping to counteract the tendency toward strong shadows. If you’re on the beach at noon and your shots feature mostly water and sky, go for it.

Also, the midday sun in late fall, winter and early spring will, because of the tilt of the earth, be at a lower angle than during the summer months. The effects of the midday sunlight at those times of year will be less pronounced.

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