Mom-tographer – How to take photos in direct sunlight

Shooting in direct sunlight can be challenging for any photographer, even professional photographers. Let’s face it, we can’t always find the perfect time of day when the sun is creating that perfect light, or a tree that can provide the right type of shade during those warm summer months. When our kids pose for the camera, we must take that perfect opportunity to snap a photo, and don’t think twice about where the sun is located. I’ve come up with a couple tips based on my own experiences photographing in direct sun, that could help you, next time you are out on the beach or in direct sun with your family, and you want to take a photo. 

The first tip is to shoot back-lit. Backlit is when the light source (sun) is behind your subject, like the examples below. You can create a silhouette like the photo on the left or you can adjust your exposure to brighten up your subject as in the photo on the right. Typically you would want a silhouette photo to be artistic, otherwise it’s just an underexposed photo that doesn’t show your face.  The downfall of an extremely back-lit image is the unnatural halo of light created around your subject by the bright midday sun.  Backlighting is best when the sun is lower in the sky and the absolute best at sunset.  

Taking Photos Back lit in Bright Sunlight

Another option is to shoot in direct sun, where the sun is facing the subject. I don’t normally like to shoot this way because your subject may squint their eyes to protect them from the harsh sunlight, as in the left photo.  Sunglasses help to disguise the squinting, however they are not always an option especially with children.  As you can see, the sun is also creating some unflattering shadows and glare on the skin.  

How to take photos in direct sunlight

The next tip is to use buildings, trees, or other structures to cast different shadows on your subject’s face. I’ve added examples below of photos in the shade, side lit and in partial shade.  The photo in complete shade on the left provides the most even exposure and is the best option during the middle of the day.  The side lit photo in the middle casts some pretty harsh shadows that you might want to avoid, but overall isn’t a terrible option if you can’t find complete shade.  However, watch out for spotty shade like in the photo on the right.  It is completely unflattering, creating bright spots on your skin and hair.

Taking Photos in the shade midday

Overall, your best option is to take photos early in the morning or late in the evening near sunset.  However, if you’re on the go and your only option is midday, take these tips and tricks into consideration to create the best photos possible in a bad lighting situation.

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