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How to Photograph in the Harsh Midday Sun

It’s all about the light! The golden hour when the sun is just above the horizon shining its low angle golden rays on the scene; sunrise and sunset when the clouds light up pink, orange, and red; and the blue hour when the sun is below the horizon but it is not yet totally dark. Those are the best times to photograph.

But midday? That’s when tourists make snap-shots, right?

Well, yes, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t options for you too. You just have to know what to do when the sun is high in the sky shining its harshest light on a day with no clouds to soften the rays.

How to Make the Most of Harsh Midday Sun

We don’t always have the option to shoot on the edges of the day when the conditions are best. On a recent trip, I was in between two destinations and had a few spare hours to visit a small village on route. It turned out to be an amazing location, but the light was harsh and the buildings were white. I could barely look at them let alone photograph them. I had to put my harsh light tactics to the test.

Here are some midday photography tips to help you:

1. Look for shade

The first thing I did was look for shady spots under trees and on the opposite side of the bright white buildings I was facing. Shade provides a nice soft, even, light, which is perfect for colorful subjects and ones with interesting shapes. I especially like to photograph flowers under soft light because the delicate nature of the subject lends itself to soft light.

How to Make the Most of Harsh Midday Sun - lotus flower

2. Look for shadows

Subjects with really distinct shapes will also have very distinct shadows in the harsh lighting conditions of midday. So you can make your photograph all about the shadows. Look for patterns in shadows, leading lines made by shadows, and shadows that create interesting shapes in your frame. Remember, you don’t necessarily have to include the object itself, sometimes just the shadow makes your photo a bit more mysterious.

Shadow Patterns - How to Make the Most of Harsh Midday Sun

3. Look for reflections in water

Whenever there is a body of water near a subject that has harsh light on it, you’ll get a bright reflection. This works best when the subject being reflected has a lot of color. Ideally, the subject will be in direct light and the water will be in the shade. Again you don’t have to include the object with the direct light on it. Sometimes photographing just a reflection can make an interesting abstract image.

Half Dome reflects in the Merced River in Yosemite National Park - How to Make the Most of Harsh Midday Sun

4. Use the time for scouting

When all else fails, rather than photographing, you can use the time to scout out locations for the future. Walk around, find a great subject and play with different compositions. Make “sketch” images by trying different compositions and choosing which one has the most impact. Then, when you find it, make a note of the exact location and make an image so you remember your camera angle.

It’s also a good idea to take note of how long it takes you to walk to that location, what the trail or route is like, and anything you may want to make note of should you need to return in the dark, like before sunrise for example. You’ll thank yourself later when you don’t have to guess at a location and composition before you can really see what is in your frame.

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve, California - How to Make the Most of Harsh Midday Sun

5. Rest up

When you’re on a long trip, sometimes it’s best not to wear yourself out by doing three photo shoots a day. Of course, you’re going to go out for sunrise and sunset. During the day you might want to clean your gear, get out some maps and do some planning, research stuff on the internet, or even take a nap.

Sometimes the best thing you can do for your photography is simply to have a rest so you have lots of energy for your next outing.


What tips to you have for working with the midday sun in your photography? Please share them in the comments below.

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Anne McKinnell
Anne McKinnell

is a photographer, writer and nomad. She lives in an RV and travels around North America photographing beautiful places and writing about travel, photography, and how changing your life is not as scary as it seems.

You can read about her adventures on her blog and be sure to check out her free photography eBooks.

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