5 Ways to Create Dramatic Landscape Photos at Midday

5 Ways to Create Dramatic Landscape Photos at Midday

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Outdoor photographers are repeatedly taught to plan their scenic photography excursions early in the morning or late in the day. These magic hours we’re told, is the only light worth shooting in. Yet, what about those situations when being on location at sunrise or sunset isn’t possible? You can pack up your bags and go home with an empty memory card, or make the most out of every opportunity. Allow me to let you in on a little secret not found in most photo magazines. Some of the best landscape opportunities can be found at midday when the sun is high over head.

Here are five tips to help you create dramatic landscape photos at midday:

1) Work with the sun

Rather than avoiding the sun, use it to add visual interest in your composition. This technique is not overly complicated but does take a bit of trial and error to master. Start by setting a very small aperture opening such as f/22. Then, while looking through the viewfinder, position yourself so an object partially blocks the sun. It should not be entirely obscured, so you may have to rock back and forth ever so slightly to find the optimal point. When you see the beams of light spilling through the obstruction, take the shot. The results can be quite dramatic and potentially aided by subtle hints of colorful flare.

2) Give your wide angle lens a rest

The contrast found midday makes it difficult to hold the detail in the sky while properly exposing a foreground. Rather than resorting to an HDR shot, use the occasion to simplify your composition. Does that bright sky really add to the overall scene? If not, give your wide angle lens a break and switch to a medium telephoto lens.

Before pressing the shutter, check all four corners of the frame for any unwanted bright areas. The human eye tends to focus on these areas first. As you eliminate these distractions, the design of the photo will become more evident. Just remember, if you are hand holding the camera with a telephoto lens, opt for a slightly faster shutter speed to prevent camera shake. At these greater magnifications, even the slightest imperfections become more noticeable.

3) Find more people

Sunny days can also be useful for creating salable prints and stock photos. Images of people enjoying the outdoors are popular with a wide variety of clients; from those looking for home decor, or pharmaceutical companies, clothing lines, the parks department, etc. In the afternoon, you’ll find infinitely more people than you would at sunrise or sunset. This is a good thing, as it opens the door to a whole new series of photographic possibility. By including a human element, the image will have greater reach as viewers can relate to it personally.

4) Slow the shutter speed down with black glass

Believe it or not, you can shoot long exposures even on a bright sunny day. The trick is add a round neutral density filter to your bag. Sometimes dubbed “black glass”, these dark screw-on options block a great deal of light from entering the lens.

For example, if the proper exposure gave you 1/125, f/22, ISO 100, the water motion (below) would be largely frozen. By adding a nine stop ND filter, you can keep the aperture and ISO the same, but drop the shutter speed all the way down to four seconds. This will create that dreamy effect previously limited to low light situations.

5) Go easy on the polarizer

If you have a short layover in a distant location, you can use the opportunity to capture some of the sites mid-afternoon. Perhaps the most important tool will be the circular polarizer. Some may disagree here, but it does not need to be a multi-coated, super high-end filter. A basic model from Hoya or Tiffen will be just as effective. With it, you can take a pale blue sky and make it pop. This is especially true when the sky is dappled with clouds.

Be warned however, the technique is so powerful it’s easy to go overboard. As a tip, I’d recommend that you find the maximum strength of the filter, and then cut the intensity slightly. This will provide you with more natural results.

Do you have any additional tips for shooting at midday? Please share in the comments below.

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Chris Corradino is a professional photographer and head student mentor at the New York Institute of Photography. His work has been published internationally with credits including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Newsday, and National Geographic Online. For more, visit online at www.christography.com.

  • Thomas Little

    Manhattan

  • Martha5487
  • Gorgeous!

  • Arjun Bhadra Khanal

    And it can be an opportunity for a decent silhouette. A pagoda temple against an afternoon sun, Kathmandu, Nepal

  • Andrea

    Thank you for this. It was about tome to point out the fact that not only morning or evening pictures are the way to go. Having only moody romantic red-golden pictures gets f*** boring.

  • Steve R

    Sometimes you have to take the shot and hope for the best…

  • A shot I took using my B+W 110 filter.. I like using the black glass.

  • A day time shot I took using B+W 110 ND filter..

    https://flic.kr/p/q6eU6m

  • Chris Corradino

    Yes, a bit of variety can make for a more diverse portfolio.

  • Sudhakar Madhavan
  • Lynton

    Thanks Chris. You are so right that it is often impossible to be there at the golden hour, particularly as most of us travel with a limited amount of time. I wish other professional photographers would recognise this when they give advice. It is so valuable to know these things.

  • jacob

    It’s a great photo, and the vertical lines definitely make the image exciting. The sunburst is great, but I think you could go down to a higher aperture, since it doesn’t look very clean. Also, the tree at the bottom is kind of distracting. Otherwise, it’s great.

  • MB

    Try using IR, you’ll be amazed!

  • JSummar

    Thank you, Chris. As an amateur photographer, I am trying to get in the habit of chasing the good light, but not be afraid of taking mid-day shots. You’ve given me some excellent advice on how to work the scenes. 🙂

  • Kerry Sidwell Wilson

    Thanks for the useful advice, will be trying it soon

  • Nancy Ricigliano

    Very pretty!

  • KRM53

    We were in Petra, Jordan on a tour several years ago and as luck would have it we arrived right around noontime. Still I was determined to try and I succeeded. This image of the Treasury of Petra has won several awards and is my highest seller.
    Shooting while in the Siq (similar to a slot canyon) before I was directly in the harsh sun was key to capturing this image.

  • Ferry Citra Febriyanto

    this long exposure B&W photo taken in middday when the sun is behind the clouds,

  • Genevieve Laurin

    Took almost the same shot as you when I went to Athens. To this day, it’s one of my favorites!

  • Samuel Johannes

    little difficult when take a shoot with mobile camera, using some filter like CPL or UV may help this….

  • JBally

    Amazing shot. I would like to see it in a mid toned black and white, but with dark shadows. The black and white would create a fine art feel to the image. In my opinion the clarity could do with being slightly higher however thats personal preference.

  • Alan Elwell

    Sometimes, though, cranking the polariser up to full is exactly what’s called for…

  • janet.taylor24
  • Chris Corradino

    Cool shot, Greece sure has an amazing variety of beautiful subjects!

  • Chris Corradino

    Way to use the light to your advantage!

  • When the sun is high, when the crowd is big, shut the aperture and aim high!

  • Orit Dagan
  • pete guaron

    I live in a country noted for its harsh midday lighting – and chat with photographers in other parts of the world, where the lighting is much softer. I notice a difference of attitude – they seem to favor early morning or late afternoon shots, when the lighting is softer. For me, the harsher light of the middle of the day – especially during our summer months, when the sun is almost directly overhead – is just another challenge. Another aspect of the study of light which I have to seek out and conquer. Definitely not something I “avoid” – although of course some subjects are not suitable for extremely harsh light (particularly overhead), these conditions can be turned to advantage with a bit of thought.

  • vilim

    Chriss, where is the second photo shot? Looks like some town located on Adriatic sea 🙂

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