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3 Tips For Photographing Kids in Harsh Light

You’ve probably heard that the absolute best time for taking gorgeous portraits is before sunset at golden hour. I love the golden hour as much as the next photographer. But I’m also a mom, and I know the importance of being able to capture photographs of your kids throughout day-to-day life, not just when the lighting conditions are ideal.

Let’s face it – birthday parties, parades, celebrations, and field trips often happen in the middle of the day when the light is harsh and more difficult to work with. How do you capture those special midday moments?!

kids eating popsicles - 3 Tips For Photographing Kids in Harsh Light

You can absolutely take amazing photos of your kids no matter the time of day! In this article, I’ll share three quick and easy tips for those times when you want to capture memories and are photographing kids in harsh lighting conditions.

1. Find or Make Some Shade

One of the easiest ways to approach photographing kids in harsh lighting conditions is to find or make some open shade.

If you’re outdoors, look for a group of trees, a small hill, a tall building, or even part of a play structure that can provide you with a bit of shade for your photo. When you’re looking at the shadows on the ground, try to find a patch of shade that doesn’t have “hot spots” of sunlight mixed in with the shade. Mottled light is generally not the most flattering type of light for photographs.

If you aren’t able to find open shade, you can also create it. I’ve used everything from a sun hat to a couple of friends holding a beach towel in the air to create a small patch of shade for a photo of my kiddos. Be creative!

girl in a watermelon hat - 3 Tips For Photographing Kids in Harsh Light

2. Find Your Light

Unless you’re shooting right at high noon, the light from the sun will still have some direction to it. If you’re familiar with the circle trick, this is a great time to utilize it so that you can easily visualize the direction of the light.

Snapping photos without taking the direction of light into account often results in lackluster images with squinting subjects and uneven unflattering lighting.

kids squinting in the sun - 3 Tips For Photographing Kids in Harsh Light

This is an example of what NOT to do when shooting in harsh lighting conditions. See how the girls are squinting and the light is uneven across their faces?

However, spending just a few seconds thinking about the direction of the source of light makes for a much better image in exactly the same location. One simple way that I often communicate this to kiddos is to ask them to stand with their feet pointing towards the head of their shadow.

two girls backlit by the sun - 3 Tips For Photographing Kids in Harsh Light

Nine times out of ten, this simple instruction quickly orients kids so that the direction of light (backlit) is most flattering. You may still end up with some hot spots across their shoulders and the tops of their heads, but typically the light will be nice and even across their faces, which is really my goal when shooting in harsh light or full sun.

3. Try a Fill Flash

girl backlit with water in the background - 3 Tips For Photographing Kids in Harsh Light

So, what if the background you’re trying to capture doesn’t allow you to orient your child in the best way given the direction of light?

Whether you’re taking photos of a historical landmark or a hometown parade, there is another trick you can utilize in harsh lighting conditions. That is to use your on-camera flash as a fill light to help diffuse any harsh shadows and brighten your subject’s face.

For example, the above image was taken at a local lake. Because of the location of the dock coupled with the time of day, I wasn’t quite able to get the sun all the way behind my daughter, resulting in a bit of a hot spot on the right edge of her face, while the rest of her face is just a bit dark.

If this effect bothers you, give fill flash a try!

3 Tips For Photographing Kids in Harsh Light

This second image (above) was taken at the same time, in the same place. But this time I used my camera’s flash to soften some of the highlights near her face. You’ll notice that the coloring of the water is entirely different when using a fill flash versus without it. Additionally, her eyes seem to have more pop with the flash compared to without it.

Whether or not to use fill flash in harsh lighting conditions is really a matter of aesthetic preference. But it’s certainly worth a try if something feels a bit off when you’re shooting in harsh light.

In a nutshell, don’t be afraid of photographing kids in full sun – it’s easier than you may think. Give it a try, and chime in and share your best images with us below.

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Meredith Clark
Meredith Clark

is a wife, mother, native Oregonian, complete bookworm, Top Chef lover, and new quilting addict. She believes that photography is for everyone – it is a gift that allows us to capture and document both ordinary and extraordinary moments in our lives. You can see more of her work at Meredith Clark Photography or connect with her on Facebook.

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