Don't Give Up In The Middle Of The Day - Tips For Shooting In Mid-Day Sun - Digital Photography School

Don’t Give Up In The Middle Of The Day – Tips For Shooting In Mid-Day Sun

So many ‘rules’ you will hear about photography are better described as ‘guidelines’. And like any line, it’s okay if you stray off it if it suits your purpose.

I openly admit I profess to many students to try to avoid mid-day sun if they can. Most photographers agree on this point. But I also make a point to tell them, and you here on the web, that it is by no means a rule that needs to be followed hard and fast. The more I travel, the more I find myself in situations where shooting at noon is the only option and I don’t think I should never let me camera see high sun because of a silly rule.

There are still subjects and methods to shoot in the middle of the day when the sun is harsh. Sure, you won’t get a magical view of Yosemite Valley like Ansel Adams or the golden glow of sunset on a lion pride in Africa, but you can keep shooting if you change your mindset slightly.

Details

This has been my standby ever since I started shooting. Too much harsh sun for landscape shots means plenty of light for details. Get close and look for the little things you missed while scouting for sunset photos.

Show me the patterns in the sandstone. Show me the rivets in that ancient door. Show me details I won’t see in your wide angle shots.

Coffee beans in Costa Rica

Snails in Fes, Morocco

Shadows/Silhouettes

Shadows and silhouettes abound, even in the middle of the day. Use them! When metering, it works best to meter for the area around the shadow rather than the shadow itself. If you fill the metering area with the shadow, chances are your camera will want to make that area far too light. In this case, point to an area away from the shadow, but with the same type of light, press your shutter release halfway down and hold it. This will lock your exposure. Now recompose and shoot.

This method isn’t needed for every shot, just the shots where the shadow is dominating the scene. Another way to handle this problem of shadow lightening is to use exposure bias or compensation to underexpose what your camera has set by one to two full stops.

School Boys in Punakha, Bhutan

Punakha Dzong and guide, Bhutan

Use Some Fill Flash

If you think that pop-up flash on your camera is only for parties or night shots, think again. It can do a wonderful job of softening or eliminating harsh shadows. If you are shooting portraits (those ‘me in front of stuff’ photos we often take on a trip) use the fill flash to get light under hat brims as well as adding a little catchlight to eyes. Catchlight is the twinkle that helps bring eyes to life in an image and it can be missing with a high sun.

Sabrina and the Red Sea, Jordan

Look Up

Why retreat from the sun? Take it on directly and point your lens to the sky. including the sun can be a challenge but shooting digitally will help your learning curve.

If you want the sun to have a starburst pattern around it, you will need to choose a small aperture (high numbered f-stop). In this case, Aperture Priority (A/Av) will work best. This method works best with a second subject visible in the frame, such as a flower.

Petra, Jordan

HDR Can Help

If you have bright highlights and deep shadows, HDR techniques can help bring more life to your work. The premise is to take multiple shots and expose for the highlights, mid-tones and shadow detail then combine the images using select computer programs. This technique overcomes a camera’s typical tendency to not capture the same dynamic range (from dark to light) that our eyes and brain can capture.

More information on HDR photography can be found on Trey Ratclif’s site, including a free video tutorial.

Duck Inside

If the sun is give you fits to no end outside, duck inside and explore how the light plays out when not so direct. Maybe there is a skylight or hole in a ceiling. Maybe you can pose your subject next to an open window for some beautiful indirect portraiture. Or use the glare from an open window as a simple source for high-key shots.

Inside the Souq, Morocco

5th grade students in Bhutan

Combining shadows and ducking inside. Thimphu, Bhutan

Your Turn

How do you adapt to shooting when the sun is high and harsh? Share your tips in the comments section below.

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Peter West Carey is the photographer behind the beautiful print book A World of Panoramas as well as the popular free photography series 31+ Days Of Photography Experiments which builds off of the 31+ Days To Better Photography series on his blog.

  • http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/ Mridula

    Thanks for the tips. I admit I feel quite frustrated when I get to shoot something only in the mid day light. But I will remember some of these, particularly using the shadows and going for the details.

  • http://www.wildlifeencounters.eu Steve
  • Joe Shelby

    Circular polarizers can help with restoring the ‘blue’ sky that would otherwise be bleached out by the exposure needed to keep the subject optimal.

  • raghavendra
  • http://photo-bytes.com Henk

    Hmmm, that shot of Alice is hardly taken in the Mid day sun… :-)

  • http://www.pdf34.wordpress.com Badflea
  • http://peterwestcarey.com Peter West Carey

    Henk, you are so right! Sorry, I was sleepy when choosing and filtering by “Flash fired”. I will remove that image as it does not help this post. Thanks for the polite feedback.

  • Scottc

    Great tips, there’s always something or some way to shoot throughout the day.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5897844344/

  • http://sidewaysrun.wordpress.com Chak

    Mid-day is easily the best time to shoot.

  • http://adamphotomedia.com Adam

    Thanks for nice tips.
    Agree with Joe. I tried polarized filter and flash. It works nice. I have one such pic on my About page (me & fountain)

  • Mei Teng

    I agree with Scott that there is always something or some way to shoot throughout the day.

  • Peter

    I much prefer taking pictures in the midday sun. better saturated colours, unlike the the wishy washy pastels of the so called golden hour.

  • http://portraitinspiration.com/ Jai Catalano

    What I think is overlooked on this article is the fact that (in essence) you can get creative during the mid day sun and that is what you are trying to portrait.

    It’s like facing a deadline in that you have to do something during a specific time and you must come away with the goods. How do you go about doing it? You share some good ideas

  • Juan

    I think no photographer (rookie, amateur or professional) should give up shooting because it is mid morning, noon or afternoon. Just shoot when they believe they see a good picture. So this article is right at encouraging that. On the other hand, what would you consider mid-day-sun? Perhaps the sun from 9 am to 4 pm or just the hours around 12 pm? Thanks for posting.

  • http://www.guigphotography.com Guigphotography

    Fantastic tips as always. I like Jai’s point too about using it to get creative. In this one don’t let the cloud fool you. The sun was dazzling.
    [eimg link=’http://www.flickr.com/photos/69604456@N07/6933049648/’ title=’Secret World’ url=’http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5032/6933049648_38256dcee5.jpg’]

  • http://satesh.com Satesh

    Here is my mid day pic. Overcast mid day
    http://500px.com/photo/13077109

  • Jim

    Bracket..Bracket..Bracket,… with digital your not wasting film.

  • Naz

    Great suggestions (although I don’t muh care for HDR)- the only times I can really shoot are right smakc dab i nthe middle of the day (toward winter, I can shoot more toward sunset as it comes much earleir).

    It’s not really a ‘rule’ to avoid high noon shooting- it’s more a matter of if you do have to shoot midday, then learn to be creative because midday is a tough time to shoot-

    I would be especially itnerested in follow up articles with more tips on shooting midday as this is hte only times I can reallty shoot- (things perhaps like shjooting hte sun through the backside of a leaf, perhaps rim light from sun etc-

  • Naz

    juan- midday is anytime the light is too harsh to take flatterign photos i nthe directl ight due to deep shadows and bright highlights- Studios use softboxes to soften the flash and light in order to flatter the subject matter- i nharsh light, there’s too much contrast between darks and lights UNLESS the photo is taken expertly in order to exploit the harsh light

  • Brad Holderman

    Great tips as I am frequently relegated to the mid-day (that period where a babysitter is on duty).

  • http://jamesgphoto.ca/ James Gonneau

    Yep, two of the best investments are a circular polarizer and a graduated neutral density filter. As mentioned above, even without you can get around it by intentionally using the overexposure:

    or getting out of the sun, but using it:

  • Colin Burt

    If following the tip to aim the camera away from the deep shadow and half press the shutter button to set the exposure , then re-compose the shot , bear in mind that you also fixed the focus and if the distances differ you may get a properly exposed shot but it could be out of focus just a little.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ronaldbollerfrancisco Ronald Francisco

    Hi Sir Peter, good day!

    I’m just a little bit confuse in some situations. How do you perform the term “meter on other thing or area, to lock the exposure, then recompose, then shoot”. For example I am on a bright day, I want to shoot a person with clouds in the background, sometimes when I focus on the person, then I shoot, I couldn’t see the details of the clouds in the background, it goes white. I’m sorry for my bad English here.. But do you get what I mean?
    My question is, how would you literally do the “metering, recomposing, then shooting”? Isn’t it that when you press the shutter half-way (on the clouds) the focus will be on the clouds? Then the person is no longer in focus or is blurry already. So what do you exactly mean when you meter on the clouds, while still making the person in focus? I really hope you understand what I’m trying to say. Pardon my English. Thanks a lot in advance. I’ll wait for your reply in my e-mail.
    Thanks and more power!

    -Ronald

  • http://mysouthfrancestay.blogspot.fr/ Sr

    Nice tips. I mostly use reflectors to cover the subject(if subject is a person) creating a soft light and shoot with backgrouns harsh light .

  • http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.ro marius

    Some pics iof mine taked in the midle of the day with sun
    http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.ro/2012/05/spre-lumina.html

  • http://mysouthfrancestay.blogspot.fr/ Sr

    Some of my images with topic esteral were also shot in midday. Ofcourse i did lot of post processing to make it look soft.
    http://mysouthfrancestay.blogspot.fr/
    In fact sometimes shades and harsh light are very good for HDR.

  • http://jamesgphoto.ca/ James Gonneau

    Sorry, the links didn’t make it:

    Intentionally using overexposure:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesgonneau/7927067610/in/photostream

    getting out of the sun:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesgonneau/7927284904/in/photostream

  • glenn

    Use you Lensbaby lenses … their fish eye and soft optics lenses work better in bright light and the effects make the shots interesting despite the harsh light

  • David Tachauer

    I got a message saying I’m posting too quickly whatever that means. How Come? If you don’t want my input feel free to write and tell me.

  • Simon Falkentorp

    I often shoot under a tree.

Some older comments

  • Simon Falkentorp

    August 20, 2013 08:06 am

    I often shoot under a tree.

  • David Tachauer

    September 12, 2012 12:01 am

    I got a message saying I'm posting too quickly whatever that means. How Come? If you don't want my input feel free to write and tell me.

  • glenn

    September 10, 2012 10:32 am

    Use you Lensbaby lenses ... their fish eye and soft optics lenses work better in bright light and the effects make the shots interesting despite the harsh light

  • James Gonneau

    September 7, 2012 11:18 pm

    Sorry, the links didn't make it:

    Intentionally using overexposure:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesgonneau/7927067610/in/photostream

    getting out of the sun:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesgonneau/7927284904/in/photostream

  • Sr

    September 7, 2012 05:41 pm

    Some of my images with topic esteral were also shot in midday. Ofcourse i did lot of post processing to make it look soft.
    http://mysouthfrancestay.blogspot.fr/
    In fact sometimes shades and harsh light are very good for HDR.

  • marius

    September 7, 2012 04:23 pm

    Some pics iof mine taked in the midle of the day with sun
    http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.ro/2012/05/spre-lumina.html

  • Sr

    September 7, 2012 04:13 pm

    Nice tips. I mostly use reflectors to cover the subject(if subject is a person) creating a soft light and shoot with backgrouns harsh light .

  • Ronald Francisco

    September 7, 2012 02:59 pm

    Hi Sir Peter, good day!

    I'm just a little bit confuse in some situations. How do you perform the term "meter on other thing or area, to lock the exposure, then recompose, then shoot". For example I am on a bright day, I want to shoot a person with clouds in the background, sometimes when I focus on the person, then I shoot, I couldn't see the details of the clouds in the background, it goes white. I'm sorry for my bad English here.. But do you get what I mean?
    My question is, how would you literally do the "metering, recomposing, then shooting"? Isn't it that when you press the shutter half-way (on the clouds) the focus will be on the clouds? Then the person is no longer in focus or is blurry already. So what do you exactly mean when you meter on the clouds, while still making the person in focus? I really hope you understand what I'm trying to say. Pardon my English. Thanks a lot in advance. I'll wait for your reply in my e-mail.
    Thanks and more power!

    -Ronald

  • Colin Burt

    September 7, 2012 09:04 am

    If following the tip to aim the camera away from the deep shadow and half press the shutter button to set the exposure , then re-compose the shot , bear in mind that you also fixed the focus and if the distances differ you may get a properly exposed shot but it could be out of focus just a little.

  • James Gonneau

    September 7, 2012 06:22 am

    Yep, two of the best investments are a circular polarizer and a graduated neutral density filter. As mentioned above, even without you can get around it by intentionally using the overexposure:

    or getting out of the sun, but using it:

  • Brad Holderman

    September 7, 2012 03:12 am

    Great tips as I am frequently relegated to the mid-day (that period where a babysitter is on duty).

  • Naz

    September 7, 2012 02:59 am

    juan- midday is anytime the light is too harsh to take flatterign photos i nthe directl ight due to deep shadows and bright highlights- Studios use softboxes to soften the flash and light in order to flatter the subject matter- i nharsh light, there's too much contrast between darks and lights UNLESS the photo is taken expertly in order to exploit the harsh light

  • Naz

    September 7, 2012 02:53 am

    Great suggestions (although I don't muh care for HDR)- the only times I can really shoot are right smakc dab i nthe middle of the day (toward winter, I can shoot more toward sunset as it comes much earleir).

    It's not really a 'rule' to avoid high noon shooting- it's more a matter of if you do have to shoot midday, then learn to be creative because midday is a tough time to shoot-

    I would be especially itnerested in follow up articles with more tips on shooting midday as this is hte only times I can reallty shoot- (things perhaps like shjooting hte sun through the backside of a leaf, perhaps rim light from sun etc-

  • Jim

    September 4, 2012 11:43 am

    Bracket..Bracket..Bracket,... with digital your not wasting film.

  • Satesh

    September 4, 2012 06:48 am

    Here is my mid day pic. Overcast mid day
    http://500px.com/photo/13077109

  • Guigphotography

    September 4, 2012 05:03 am

    Fantastic tips as always. I like Jai's point too about using it to get creative. In this one don't let the cloud fool you. The sun was dazzling.
    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/69604456@N07/6933049648/' title='Secret World' url='http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5032/6933049648_38256dcee5.jpg']

  • Juan

    September 4, 2012 01:12 am

    I think no photographer (rookie, amateur or professional) should give up shooting because it is mid morning, noon or afternoon. Just shoot when they believe they see a good picture. So this article is right at encouraging that. On the other hand, what would you consider mid-day-sun? Perhaps the sun from 9 am to 4 pm or just the hours around 12 pm? Thanks for posting.

  • Jai Catalano

    September 3, 2012 09:33 pm

    What I think is overlooked on this article is the fact that (in essence) you can get creative during the mid day sun and that is what you are trying to portrait.

    It's like facing a deadline in that you have to do something during a specific time and you must come away with the goods. How do you go about doing it? You share some good ideas

  • Peter

    September 3, 2012 07:22 pm

    I much prefer taking pictures in the midday sun. better saturated colours, unlike the the wishy washy pastels of the so called golden hour.

  • Mei Teng

    September 3, 2012 03:18 pm

    I agree with Scott that there is always something or some way to shoot throughout the day.

  • Adam

    September 3, 2012 10:32 am

    Thanks for nice tips.
    Agree with Joe. I tried polarized filter and flash. It works nice. I have one such pic on my About page (me & fountain)

  • Chak

    September 3, 2012 09:32 am

    Mid-day is easily the best time to shoot.

  • Scottc

    September 3, 2012 07:25 am

    Great tips, there's always something or some way to shoot throughout the day.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5897844344/

  • Peter West Carey

    September 3, 2012 05:43 am

    Henk, you are so right! Sorry, I was sleepy when choosing and filtering by "Flash fired". I will remove that image as it does not help this post. Thanks for the polite feedback.

  • Badflea

    September 3, 2012 04:00 am

    The Australian Outback's mid-day sun...

    http://pdf34.wordpress.com/2012/04/21/weekly-photo-challenge-sun/

  • Henk

    September 3, 2012 03:39 am

    Hmmm, that shot of Alice is hardly taken in the Mid day sun... :-)

  • raghavendra

    September 3, 2012 03:09 am

    colors of nature at 1pm it was hot sun!

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/2012/01/colors-of-nature.html

  • Joe Shelby

    September 3, 2012 02:41 am

    Circular polarizers can help with restoring the 'blue' sky that would otherwise be bleached out by the exposure needed to keep the subject optimal.

  • Steve

    September 3, 2012 02:40 am

    Forest scenes and sunbursts can be taken in midday sun:

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/European-Trees-and-tree-scenes/G0000bfuYMit4B.A/I0000mDcqurgjKlg

  • Mridula

    September 3, 2012 02:20 am

    Thanks for the tips. I admit I feel quite frustrated when I get to shoot something only in the mid day light. But I will remember some of these, particularly using the shadows and going for the details.

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