How to Shoot in Direct Sunlight - Digital Photography School
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How to Shoot in Direct Sunlight

Sun-1

image by 油姬

Shooting in direct sunlight can lead to images that have high contrast, blown out highlights, lens flare and colors that might even look overly saturated. If you’re shooting portraits they can also lead to the ‘squint factor’.

So what’s a photographer to do?

Here are eleven quick and simple tips at combating the problems that bright sunlight might bring when shooting outdoors:

1. Move into the shade

ShadePhoto by neloqua

With some subjects you’ll be able to move them (and yourself) into the shade. This is particularly relevant with portraits where your subject is highly portable. Sometimes the simplest solutions are best.

2. Make your own shade

If your subject is not movable (for example if you’re shooting macro work with a flower) create your own shade. Use your own shadow, the shadow of someone else or bring an object with you (like an umbrella, a reflector or large sheet of card) to block out the sun.

3. Use Fill in Flash

Most of us were trained to put the sun behind you when taking a photograph so that your subject will be well lit. Shooting into the sun may lead to lens flare or a dark subject – but at times it can improve it drastically – particularly if you use a flash to fill in the shadows that are created by doing so (learn more about using fill flash).


4. Use a Reflector

Another way to fill in the shadows caused by direct sunlight is to use a reflector. These bounce light up into the face of your subject and are great because they allow you to shoot into the sun – as with when you’re using fill in flash.

5. Change Your Perspective

PerspectivePhoto by code poet

Sometimes moving your subject isn’t possible – but moving around it can give a different impact. This might be moving to the other side of the object, shooting from directly above or even getting down low and shooting up. Doing so will change the angle of the sun hitting both your subject and the camera and give your image a completely different feel.

6. Use a Lens Hood

Suffering from lens flare? If your lens came with a lens hood – get it out and use it. If you don’t have one – it’s not difficult to construct one out of card – or to even use your hand to shield your lens from the sun. Just make sure that your shot is free of your hand or the DIY hood that you’re using (learn more about eliminating lens flare).

7. Filters

Sometimes a filter can be handy when shooting in bright sunlight. I try to take a Polarizing filter or Neutral Density (ND) filter with at all times. The polarizing filter will help cut down on reflections and both will cut down the light getting into your camera to let you use slower shutter speeds and smaller apertures if you’re looking for more control over these elements of exposure. Polarizing filters have the added bonus of giving you some control over some colors – particularly when you’ve got a blue sky in your shot (learn more about using filters).

8. Play with White Balance Settings

Many digital cameras come with the ability to choose different white balance settings. While you can make adjustments later on post processing (particularly when shooting in RAW) choosing the right setting at the time of shooting can be worth experimenting with. I personally shoot in RAW and do this later on my computer – but have friends who prefer to do it in camera.

9. Metering

Direct sunlight makes correct metering tricky. In these conditions I generally choose spot metering mode on my DSLR and choose the main subject of the scene that I’m photographing (the focal point) to meter off. Alternatively pick a mid-tone area to meter off if you want everything to be exposed relatively well. Check your shots immediately to see if you need to adjust your technique (your histogram can be handy here) and if you have the luxury of time – take multiple shots metering off different parts of the scene so that you can choose the best one later.

10. Pick The Time of Day to Shoot

Silhouette-1Photo by creativesam

For many of us we won’t have the luxury of sitting all day long waiting for the perfect light – but if you do, the time of day can dramatically impact your shot. Dawn and Dusk are particularly good times to shoot as the direction and color of the light is often more useable than the direct overhead light of noon.

11. Shoot Silhouettes

‘If you can’t beat em join em’ is a saying that could come into play here. If the bright light of the Sun is causing you a headache – why not use it to your advantage and make your subject into a Silhouette against a bright background (learn more about Photographing Silhouettes).

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • jeddy

    thankyou so much for the tips, i am new to photography and although some of the terms used i don’t understand yet your lesson made sense and will enable me to get started in the right way.

    take care all, happy shooting
    x x xx x x

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/33385365@N08/4769170696/in/set-72157620691518725/#/photos/33385365@N08/4769170696/in/set-72157620691518725/lightbox/ nick
  • Sharon

    I don’t know a lot about photography, but I do know that the purple cascade was not supposed to be there!

  • Sharon

    I have an outdoor picture of a large park-like area and the people were at least 30 feet away, but the sun was just above the tree line and there was a purple cascade coming through the tree leaves starting below the sun and to the tops of the people’s heads. Is that from the exposure?

  • Victor

    sharon, that artifact is not from the exposure setting. I think it may be from how such a bright light affects the sensor – or it may be from lens flare. If it is the sensor issue the streak probably covers the image from top to bottom. But, as you describe it it is only partial so more likely it is lens flare.

  • http://www.gps-tracker.com/ GPS Tracker

    Great article. I continue to struggle with my exposures while shooting into the sun.

  • http://www.westcoastpicture.com Daniel

    Good info! Thanks!

  • http://www.asaentertainment.co.za Rollet’

    I wanted to polish my skills and I found the information here very useful and relevant. We have couple of shot taken directly facing the sun and they look awesome but to tell you the truth, there are other tips I was not aware of.

  • Thomas

    Question. I have a Leica C-Lux 2, and have taken many shots into the sun. This has left smudges (burns) on the sensor. I am now buying a new Leica V-Lux 30, and my fear is that it may have the same weakness, if it is one. Not only the Leica. I had the same problem with a Samsung and a Minolta. How is one to avoid this? Frequently I will hand a camera over to someone else. For instance, I was conducting a wedding, and someone took photos of me backgrounded by a misty/sunny sky, and there were smudges all over the sensor. I’m thinking maybe settings will protect the camera, maybe a makeshift filter? Or avoid the sun altogether.

  • http://www.passporttobliss.wordpress.com Jen @ Passport to Bliss

    Awesome! I’m going to put these tips into practice on my trip to NY in a few weeks. Thanks!

  • http://jame.com.au James Field Photography

    Good article. This is a challenge I face frequently shooting Summer weddings in Australia!

  • http://www.photosbyg.com Gino Creglia

    Excellent article on shooting in direct sunlight. Appreciate you sharing your tips and expertise to the photography community. G.

  • http://www.susiej.com.au Susie

    Good ideas, thank you. Love to know more about lens hoods and why they’re all different shapes.

  • http://www.oriyuna.com/sitemap photograpy

    Thank you, I’ve just been looking for information approximately this subject for a while and yours is the greatest I have found out so far. But, what about the bottom line? Are you sure about the source?|What i do not understood is in fact how you’re no longer really a lot more well-appreciated than you might be now. You are very intelligent.

Some older comments

  • photograpy

    May 25, 2013 09:32 pm

    Thank you, I've just been looking for information approximately this subject for a while and yours is the greatest I have found out so far. But, what about the bottom line? Are you sure about the source?|What i do not understood is in fact how you're no longer really a lot more well-appreciated than you might be now. You are very intelligent.

  • Susie

    May 21, 2013 12:14 pm

    Good ideas, thank you. Love to know more about lens hoods and why they're all different shapes.

  • Gino Creglia

    November 6, 2012 03:34 pm

    Excellent article on shooting in direct sunlight. Appreciate you sharing your tips and expertise to the photography community. G.

  • James Field Photography

    September 11, 2012 05:26 pm

    Good article. This is a challenge I face frequently shooting Summer weddings in Australia!

  • Jen @ Passport to Bliss

    May 10, 2012 07:40 am

    Awesome! I'm going to put these tips into practice on my trip to NY in a few weeks. Thanks!

  • Thomas

    April 16, 2012 04:55 pm

    Question. I have a Leica C-Lux 2, and have taken many shots into the sun. This has left smudges (burns) on the sensor. I am now buying a new Leica V-Lux 30, and my fear is that it may have the same weakness, if it is one. Not only the Leica. I had the same problem with a Samsung and a Minolta. How is one to avoid this? Frequently I will hand a camera over to someone else. For instance, I was conducting a wedding, and someone took photos of me backgrounded by a misty/sunny sky, and there were smudges all over the sensor. I'm thinking maybe settings will protect the camera, maybe a makeshift filter? Or avoid the sun altogether.

  • Rollet'

    April 11, 2012 05:08 pm

    I wanted to polish my skills and I found the information here very useful and relevant. We have couple of shot taken directly facing the sun and they look awesome but to tell you the truth, there are other tips I was not aware of.

  • Daniel

    March 25, 2012 12:55 am

    Good info! Thanks!

  • GPS Tracker

    November 4, 2011 02:19 pm

    Great article. I continue to struggle with my exposures while shooting into the sun.

  • Victor

    May 31, 2011 08:25 am

    sharon, that artifact is not from the exposure setting. I think it may be from how such a bright light affects the sensor - or it may be from lens flare. If it is the sensor issue the streak probably covers the image from top to bottom. But, as you describe it it is only partial so more likely it is lens flare.

  • Sharon

    April 22, 2011 12:59 pm

    I have an outdoor picture of a large park-like area and the people were at least 30 feet away, but the sun was just above the tree line and there was a purple cascade coming through the tree leaves starting below the sun and to the tops of the people's heads. Is that from the exposure?

  • Sharon

    April 22, 2011 12:11 pm

    I don't know a lot about photography, but I do know that the purple cascade was not supposed to be there!

  • nick

    April 22, 2011 08:38 am

    awesome topic

    one more example
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/33385365@N08/4635467898/in/set-72157625957283322

  • jeddy

    January 15, 2011 01:51 pm

    thankyou so much for the tips, i am new to photography and although some of the terms used i don't understand yet your lesson made sense and will enable me to get started in the right way.

    take care all, happy shooting
    x x xx x x

  • kimmy yuan

    October 11, 2010 02:40 pm

    Great tips! I've learned a lot!

  • PhotoshopPrincess

    October 4, 2010 09:56 pm

    great tips... ill keep black card in my camera case as well as white card and tape... i now understand what alense hood is for :P

    thank you

  • geri-Jean

    July 1, 2010 08:51 am

    "Curtis Copeland Says:
    Great insight into photographing in direct sunlight. Recently, we had a beach family portrait that had to be shot in late morning and the Florida sun was already quite strong. Here is the blog post for this family portrait photography "

    Curtis: Did you use flash in these photos?

  • Zoltan Forray

    June 22, 2010 02:54 am

    I didn't notice a mention of using AE Lock? Or how about gradient filters?

  • Curtis Copeland

    April 6, 2010 11:53 pm

    Great insight into photographing in direct sunlight. Recently, we had a beach family portrait that had to be shot in late morning and the Florida sun was already quite strong. Here is the blog post for this family portrait photography

  • Jason Lloyd

    January 16, 2010 01:30 am

    No sun over here in the UK, so no problems..... :o)

  • lampi

    January 11, 2010 11:01 pm

    What about flares? Sometimes there are some flares and sometimes not, when I shoot directly in to the sun. Well, I set the aperture to f11 and it helps a little bit, but I think it is a matter of luck to achieve good result.

  • destination wedding photographer Maldives

    December 31, 2009 09:24 pm

    This is a good set of a relly useful advices.
    Useful for digital as well as for film camera shooters.

    But don't forget everybody, that if you film in sunlight and set high apertures - 8,11,16,22,32 etc - alld the damn dirt on your sensor will become VERY visible.
    Yu will be amazed, how much dirt and dust you carry in your camera :)
    Don't forget to clean sensor before shooting :)

  • Swiss JHG Photo

    December 16, 2009 06:59 am

    Nice tips for quite difficult situation

  • dapster101

    November 13, 2009 09:49 pm

    great tips!!!by the way, just one thing more..how do you shoot rays of lights or making it look like rays of light are streaming from above..hope you can help me with the querry..

  • fas

    October 17, 2009 05:19 am

    Why not take a video and take snapshots out of it?

  • Joey

    July 5, 2009 04:18 pm

    Do 1, 2 and 10 really apply? I thought the post was called "How to shoot in direct sunlight" These tips are saying to not shoot in direct sunlight.

    Another tip to consider for shooting in direct sunlight is "creative use/control of lens flare". I've seen many examples where purposely adding and then controlling lens flare has added another dimension to an image. Of course there are even more examples to prove how flare can ruin a shot.

    Just figured with all the buzz about vignettes that lens flare would be a perfect aspect to cover as well.

  • Rohit.P.Toppo

    June 15, 2009 07:19 pm

    Shooting in the sun was always a major concern for me...after reading this article, I hope to get some great shots in the making...Thankx!!!
    - rohit.p.toppo

  • B P Maiti

    June 14, 2009 11:24 pm

    For amateurs and semi pros,your article is exhaustive,illustrative and applicable.For pros it is a reconfimation if not re orientation.Thanks

  • My Two Seasons

    June 13, 2009 03:05 am

    Great tips! Thank you so much! I am going to go try these out!

  • ahmad

    June 12, 2009 04:28 pm

    such a great person with a great mind and a great tips..tq darren

  • Erin D

    June 12, 2009 09:41 am

    Great tips! I love shooting silhouettes!

  • Patti Vorwick

    June 12, 2009 06:28 am

    Darren!!! I'm just starting out and I have to say I love getting your email every week! Thank you so much for all the amazing tips you give people like me!

  • Juan Y.

    June 12, 2009 05:22 am

    Friend Darren, I came to USA recently from Cuba and my passion for photography is so big that I dared to get involve into your program, and have no regrets at all. I've learned a lot of things with your suggestions and although I only could afford a point and shoot camera, for now, I do my best to learn as much as possible to put into practice once I get my first D-SRL Camera in the future to come. It's really been a pleasure to be part of the Digital Photography School. This is an awesome site...Juan Y.

  • sun|moon

    June 12, 2009 01:55 am

    So many good tips on this site!

    Here's mine for sharing:
    When I shoot (directly) into the sun, I select a small aperture (>f/11) and press the DOF preview button on my camera, so the sun doesn't bother me too much (read: hurt my eyes).
    Then I can easily compose through the viewfinder.

  • David Purslow - West Wales wedding photographer

    June 10, 2009 11:01 pm

    some really useful tips here, found this site today and am loving looking around

    ciao

    david purslow

    dp

  • Jared Earle

    June 8, 2009 10:26 pm

    How to shoot in direct sunlight: Bracket and merge. Or, Bracket and HDR.

    Here's a shot directly into the sun:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaredearle/3595935086/

  • bettina

    June 8, 2009 03:36 pm

    Hello,

    Thank you for the tips. These are really helpful.

  • Minneapolis Joe

    June 8, 2009 01:13 pm

    Great tips -- don't fear the sun!!! Something I need to remember sometimes.

  • Peter

    June 8, 2009 09:57 am

    I am one of those people with less experience that will put away the camera on a sunny day, i know it sounds a little crazy but over exposed photographs or hot spots are unbearable.

    I appreciate the tips from DPs because hopefully it will take away some the bitterness from shooting indirect sunlight...thanks for the help...

  • irieness

    June 8, 2009 06:48 am

    Metering is such an important point. Learn how to meter with your digital camera to get the effect you are looking for.
    For example in this shot http://www.flickr.com/photos/irievibrations/3603380208/ I metered between the sand and rocks to bring out the colors of the sand, keep the sun highlights at bay and get a little detail of the rocks.

    Darren has picked out other great topics to focus on, but once you mastered metering, your shots will turn out wow!
    The following tutorial is so important to read through, make the effort! http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/camera-metering.htm

  • Farkled

    June 8, 2009 03:42 am

    An EXCELLENT subject! But, ....Many (most) of us are constrained to shoot by the calendar and clock. We're on vacation for these two weeks and pretty much have to shoot the scene before we move on to the next one. I would like to read more, in-depth about dealing with "high-noon" situations.

    For example, the gorgeous cliff face with strong, harsh shadows. Wildlife can be as difficult as people in broad daylight but are generally not going to move into the shade for you. In other words, when you have to deal with it as is, how best to do so, both in-camera and in post.

  • steve golliher

    June 8, 2009 01:08 am

    as always, thanks for the coaching.

  • Davidk

    April 2, 2009 12:14 pm

    I have just started to use a Nikon D40 with a manual lens and found if you use manual you learn far more interesting things. Like taking photos in sunlite use a faster shutter speed (1000 or a little higher) so as to not let in as much light, ISO lowest possible and check the apperature a few times to get the right look you want also i use a remote for this,with a little preperation first so i dont have to use the viewfinder. This does take time at first but after a few times you will get the the TINGLY SENSE for each situation.

    just subbed up for the news letter what a fantastic site this is.

  • Vishal

    February 27, 2009 03:30 pm

    Hi,
    These are some good tips.

    It would be great if you tell how exactly to take a picture. For example the first one, with people on the beach.
    And the third picture of flower.

    I have Nikon D60 and I cant look through the ViewFinder, when the Camera is facing the sun.
    Thank you

  • Shakir Adeel

    November 8, 2008 01:19 am

    Very useful tips

  • Grant

    August 23, 2008 01:43 pm

    Just wanted to let you know that a site called Digital Picture Zone seems to be taking your posts and 'rewriting' them. This isn't the first article I see on their site that mirrors things you've previously written about. I know that there is limited amounts of topics to cover on photography but it's remarkable how many of their points use the exact headings you have here. The only difference is that some of their rewrites display a lack of understanding of the English language.

  • Just Simply Art

    August 15, 2008 02:11 am

    Finding this site is the best thing that an amateur could stumble upon. The tips are really helpful. Thanks so much for the many valued tips.

  • Dwayne Tucker

    June 6, 2008 10:32 pm

    I really like these tips. Thank you. How do you like this photo I did in the Bahamas? http://www.dwaynetucker.com/photoshop/how-to-take-a-photograph-of-a-model-in-the-sunset/

  • bogart

    June 5, 2008 11:10 am

    Direct sunlight shooting would be appreciated when it would be done in the beach...

  • bintang4

    May 20, 2008 12:55 pm

    I don't have a SLR or DSLR camera. Does this tips apply to a normal digital camera?

  • PhotoPoet

    November 27, 2007 06:24 am

    I have not run into any known, reliable sources indicating that shooting into the sun will damage your camera's sensor. It is done frequently for sunrise and sunset pictures, and often as an effect. Usual cautions apply, of course, for looking into the sun, while taking the photo.

  • Sergei Shelukhin

    November 24, 2007 07:27 am

    Umm... I'm not much of a photographer but as far I was told shooting directly at the sun (or even in the general direction of bright sun) damages digital cameras

  • Rick Rouse

    November 20, 2007 09:15 pm

    Here in the U.S. we're heading into winter, but these excellent tips will come in handy here as well. Exposure and lighting is a tricky subject for novices to master, but this post points folks in the right direction.

  • ansar

    November 20, 2007 07:52 am

    Would taking photo directly into the sun, really direct, no filters, zoomed to the max - damage your digital camera?

  • Simon

    November 20, 2007 02:18 am

    Thanks for the tips! This blog is extremely well written and full of useful practical information. I'm hooked.

  • PhotoPoet

    November 16, 2007 04:40 pm

    Good tips. I might add that shooting directly into the sun is a great way to get spectacular color from translucent flowers or autumn leaves, often providing almost a stained-glass window effect.

  • david

    November 16, 2007 04:24 pm

    these tips are great ... i especially like your last ones about shooting silhouettes, a big favourite of mine.

    thanks for sharing your ideas.

    cheers

    david
    www.davidsmeaton.com

  • AceStar

    November 16, 2007 07:18 am

    lovely article!!! check my sunsets at http://www.acestar.co.nr
    thanks :)

    good luck

  • Nathan

    November 16, 2007 03:52 am

    thanks for the tips! we're heading into winter, but i think these tips will be very useful as the sun can get particularly harsh and glaring during this time of year

  • jerometahiti

    November 15, 2007 05:54 pm

    Greetings from Tahiti,

    These tips will be of great help, thank you ! :)

  • PhotographyVoter.com

    November 15, 2007 06:28 am

    Here in Australia we’re coming out of Winter and into Spring. While this is something to celebrate for those of us suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder - it does bring some challenges with it - one of which is shooting outdoors in direct sunlight.

    Shooting in direct sunlight can lead to images that have high contrast, blown out highlights, lens flare and colors that might even look overly saturated. If you’re shooting portraits they can also lead to the ’squint factor’.

  • AC

    November 15, 2007 04:09 am

    Great tips. I use some of them already. Alas, it is heading towards winter now...

  • Klaidas

    November 15, 2007 03:43 am

    Finally, some real tips (and not those "Do you like sunny weather" kind of polls ;])

  • Andre

    November 15, 2007 02:35 am

    Thanks for the tip! :)

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