Photographing Kids in Noon Day Sun [Behind the Shot]

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In this post Rachel Devine (author of our new Natural Light Photography eBook and our kids photography eBook) shares the back story behind this picture of her daughter – shot in noon sun.

noon-sun-photography.jpg

It is rare that I get any significant amount of time alone with either one of my twins. I love getting to know them as individuals. Most of the time spent with my daughter, Clover, without her twin brother or their older sister is spent somewhere in or near the children’s hospital. Luckily yesterday it was just for a check up. When we were walking back to the car, the sun was out and we had at least 2 more hours left of free parking (Four hour free street parking is about as rare as time spent with a twin alone!) so we took a detour into the huge park that surrounds the hospital.

I had my camera with me (as I almost always do) and even though it was noon, my little model was in the mood for photos. When photographing kids, you really need to be prepared to work in any light because the best photographs happen on their schedule…not just during the gorgeous magic hour before sunset. 

The key to shooting at noon is knowing how to modify the light. In this case, the park had a lot of little groupings of leafy trees that worked as open shade. There are a few things to watch out for when using natural locations like this to flag overhead light. 

First issue is dappling. Make sure you scan the ground and your subject’s face for hot spots where the sun has made it directly through the break in some leaves. In this case, I had my daughter move just a little bit to a spot where the light was all even as there was one beam of sunlight hitting her cheek. 

The second is reflected colors. Sun hitting grass will bounce unflattering shades of green up into your subject’s face. The spot I found here had a whole patch of tan bark mulch directly in front of my daughter where lay down to take the shot. If that is not the case where you are, consider using a tan or off white towel or blanket. Spread in front of your subject, it will bounce just enough light back for a bit of fill without causing squints nor color cast. It is also a lot more comfortable to lie on than mulch…trust me. 

A third thing to watch out for is white balance. I was taking the easy road out here because we were just playing and did auto white balance. Normally I would use a custom white balance setting to give all images in one lighting situation a consistent color. Even if the white balance that you set is a little bit off, with consistent color in the set of images all taken in the same lighting conditions you can easily batch correct them all in your editing program to save time.

This shot was a bit on the cool side, but I added a quick warming fix in Photoshop. In fact, the only other thing I did in Photoshop to this photo was take out two spots of eczema from her forehead. All of my daily life photography of my kids is shot in jpeg. I am not here to debate RAW versus jpeg, At the risk of losing my (non-existent) secret professional photographer membership card, I shoot mostly jpegs. When it comes to my daily life photo blogging, I am a mom of three with limited time. Since I can fine tune the Picture Controls on my D3 to produce images that come straight out of the camera looking very close to how I want them to look, I save time (that I don’t really have anyway) on post processing. (The D3 has two memory card slots, so with clients, I shoot RAW and jpeg…everyone relax, no one call the photo police!) 

Back to shooting at noon. The last thing that was an issue was sunflare. Even though the area where my subject was seated was in shade, I needed to flag the lens. When the light coming through the trees hit my lens, I got that tell-tale line of bright circles diagonally across my image that is sunflare. I did like the way the sun hit the tall grass that was in between me and my daughter. With the wide aperture and long focal length, the grasses turned into a warm streak in the foreground and the shadow of my hand over the lens kept the sun from hitting the sensor.

If I had an assistant and needed to shoot a client at noon, I would make sure to bring reflectors and my external flash for more control of the light. But just like most everything as a busy mom, I made what I had to work with work for me.

Enjoy this post?

For more on the topic of Kids Photogrpahy – Check out Rachel’s eBook Click! How to Take Gorgeous Photos of Your Kids. Also check out her brand new Life in Natural Light eBook (which currently comes with some great bonuses for early birds).

Rachel Devine is an international commercial kid photographer and daily life photo blogger from the states. She currently lives in Melbourne, Australia. Rachel and Peta Mazey are the photography duo behind “Beyond Snapshots”. They teach and mentor (in person and online) photographers of all levels on how to take better photographs of life. Their book will be published next year on Amphoto/Random House.

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  • Hi

    Really great treatment of this difficult subject. Like you mentioned, often one cannot wait around for The Golden Hour due to multiple contraints – you just need to work with what you have! I like to carry light modifiers like diffusers and reflectors, but if you are by yourself, usually these cant be deployed. The shots of this model were all around 11AM in California on a super clear day! Last two used some fill flash.

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/08/21/vintage-glam/

  • Great article and Indeed a difficult topic, but really well explained. I actually have a picture to prove that the lighting in the magic hour before sunset can be just as difficult. Here I’ve got really bright sun-light coming from the side while everything else is already really in the shade. I had to do lots of post-processing and still some of the colours remain washed out. Some shots just can’t wait for the perfect light.

    http://experimentsinexperience.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/waiting-for-better-times

  • Ryan

    I absolutlely loved this post and the picture as well. You could not be more spot on with the statement, when shooting your favorite subject (your children) you need to work on their schedule. I love shooting my kids, but it always happens that they are only willing to cooperate in the summer, on 90 degree days, after lunch. Since my boys love the outdoors so much, I have recently taken to getting them on nature walks at a local preserve. Like you mentioned, watching for the light coming through the leaves is especially important as well as increasingly difficult with a moving subject. I recently captued one that I will cherish for quite some time that really captures the two of them and their ‘connection’ perfectly.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rjweyer/6084047332/

    Another trick that I have learned was to introduce wather into the equation…either with squirt guns, hoses or lawn sprinklers. The results are extremely fun.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rjweyer/5927526447/in/photostream

    Thanks again for a wonderful post…something I can definitely relate to and have benefited from your points.

  • Love this post! I have to do the mid-day shoots often of adults and kids and this post helped remind me to think ahead. Thank you!

  • I liked this shot because of the rays coming from the left.. Very delight colors

  • Thanks for the good insight. Definitely wish I had read this when I first start asking and learning about Natural Light Photography. Especially spot on about watching for dappling and being aware that a grass reflects green light, a pool blue light etc. Happy shooting everyone and price responsibly!- Nathan Morgan

    A sample of my portraits including some natural light-midday sun shots
    http://www.nathanmorgan.com/?p=173

  • Jenny

    Please forgive my sophomoric understanding of terms but could you please explain how you ‘flag your lens’ to keep the sun spots out of your photos (I tried to Google the term and found nothing). I understood what you meant by the gist of your post and what you would use if you had assistance, but you did not explain how you did it alone. Thank you!

  • Jenny

    My apologies…I see now that you did explain it at the end of the paragraph. I have always used my hand…thought that was an inexperienced make-shift way of doing it so I’m glad to hear it really is an effective method. Still learning terms such as wide aperture and long focal length so I will need to look into that. Thanks again for the post, Rachel. Lots of great tips 🙂

  • Valerie

    Wow! Thanks for sharing this with us. Frankly, I think the image is so wonderful that an assistant/external light/reflectors wouldn’t have improved it.

  • Jay Fitzpatrick

    A beautiful picture of a beautiful girl. I hope she is well. Thanks for the tips.

  • Florian

    Nice post!
    I am wondering, however, how you changed the wb in photoshop, when you only shot jpgs that day. I always thought, changing wb is only possible with raws.

  • TheTXPhotog

    Great photo and even more impressive that it was a noon shot.

  • Wonderful articule, always I keep learning with these posts, and never stop doing it. beautiful pics of your daughter, I wander to get blush away the background ,what was the distance of your shot?..

  • Great article, we amateurs thank you!
    Very usefull tips for hasty mothers of 3 :))
    I totally get your jpeg “thing” as i am using it a lot myshelf .
    It was great taking the courage to admit!
    Beautiful shot btw!

  • nice tips thanks

  • Rusty

    To be honest, I didn’t find it all that useful. Probably, I’m too new to the game and don’t know what cool or hot color is, red or blue? What do I do if I can’t find a less reflective surface? Well, I know now to at least consider it. I didn’t say it wasn’t useful at all.

  • Oh, and one more thing: your daughter is adorable and that’s a lovely photograph!

  • Roger McLean

    Hi Rachel,
    Clover with two clovers – how clever – and cute. I always forget about unwanted color bounce – great point there. Only open question for me was what your focal length was – just curious

  • Ronnie

    Sorry, i have to put aside the techi details. Just a very beautiful photograph of a very beautiful child.
    My kids are all grown up, but they still let me photograph them, especially my daughter. And yes i hate photoshop. Nothing wrong with jpegs.

  • Nice article, I love using rim lighting techniques where possible.

  • Thanks for a great article.

    Florian,
    In answer to your question,
    Nice post!
    I am wondering, however, how you changed the wb in photoshop, when you only
    shot jpgs that day. I always thought, changing wb is only possible with raws.

    In your editor, use “Open As” and select the raw format. Less powerful than if you began with a raw file, but you get the same editing tools (at least I do in Photoshop Elements).

  • Marco

    I use GiMP as an editor and FX Foundies makes a set of filters that work for JPG and one of them lets you edit the White Balance by degree Kelvin. I seem to remember that Paintshop Pro also allowed this as an original feature. I would not be surprised that someone makes a filter for Photo shop to adjust
    WB in jpg’s. However I must say that I ALWAYS shoot in RAW+JPG so that I can revert to RAW if my camera totally blows the JPG. Most of the time the JPG works fine but once in a while….

  • Valerie

    I can adjust the white balance on JPGs with both Lightroom (I have version 3) and Paintshop Photo Pro X3. I’m pretty sure I can in Photoshop Elements as well. Typically you do it both manually (sliders, etc.) or click on an area that should be neutral and let the program do it.

  • Surender

    Dear Rachel,

    Thanks for an excellent contribution.The photograph is top notch in my amateur book. 🙂
    Surender

  • Tadthephoto

    Shooting in the noon sun – step 1 – go find some shade. hmmmm.

  • Karen Quist

    There are comments and questions here dating back years, and it makes me wonder why DPS would rehash this post. I find it disappointing when an author doesn’t bother to engage with the people who bother to read what they’ve written.

  • lynnpearson.photography

    I found this informative and helpful, especially since I have an upcoming photo shoot with children and I’m still an amateur photographer. I was worried about having too much sunlight for the photos, if the kids can’t make it to the golden light hours towards sunset. I guess if you are a professional photographer you might snub your nose at this article, but as an amateur, it was helpful. Thank you!

Some Older Comments

  • Surender September 23, 2011 08:45 pm

    Dear Rachel,

    Thanks for an excellent contribution.The photograph is top notch in my amateur book. :-)
    Surender

  • Valerie September 22, 2011 10:37 pm

    I can adjust the white balance on JPGs with both Lightroom (I have version 3) and Paintshop Photo Pro X3. I'm pretty sure I can in Photoshop Elements as well. Typically you do it both manually (sliders, etc.) or click on an area that should be neutral and let the program do it.

  • Marco September 21, 2011 02:30 pm

    I use GiMP as an editor and FX Foundies makes a set of filters that work for JPG and one of them lets you edit the White Balance by degree Kelvin. I seem to remember that Paintshop Pro also allowed this as an original feature. I would not be surprised that someone makes a filter for Photo shop to adjust
    WB in jpg's. However I must say that I ALWAYS shoot in RAW+JPG so that I can revert to RAW if my camera totally blows the JPG. Most of the time the JPG works fine but once in a while....

  • George September 21, 2011 03:23 am

    Thanks for a great article.

    Florian,
    In answer to your question,
    Nice post!
    I am wondering, however, how you changed the wb in photoshop, when you only
    shot jpgs that day. I always thought, changing wb is only possible with raws.

    In your editor, use "Open As" and select the raw format. Less powerful than if you began with a raw file, but you get the same editing tools (at least I do in Photoshop Elements).

  • Paul September 18, 2011 07:35 am

    Nice article, I love using rim lighting techniques where possible.

  • Ronnie September 17, 2011 11:49 pm

    Sorry, i have to put aside the techi details. Just a very beautiful photograph of a very beautiful child.
    My kids are all grown up, but they still let me photograph them, especially my daughter. And yes i hate photoshop. Nothing wrong with jpegs.

  • Roger McLean September 17, 2011 09:44 pm

    Hi Rachel,
    Clover with two clovers - how clever - and cute. I always forget about unwanted color bounce - great point there. Only open question for me was what your focal length was - just curious

  • William Thomas September 17, 2011 07:56 am

    Oh, and one more thing: your daughter is adorable and that's a lovely photograph!

  • Rusty September 16, 2011 07:43 pm

    To be honest, I didn't find it all that useful. Probably, I'm too new to the game and don't know what cool or hot color is, red or blue? What do I do if I can't find a less reflective surface? Well, I know now to at least consider it. I didn't say it wasn't useful at all.

  • bycostello September 16, 2011 07:39 pm

    nice tips thanks

  • Marian September 16, 2011 07:24 pm

    Great article, we amateurs thank you!
    Very usefull tips for hasty mothers of 3 :))
    I totally get your jpeg "thing" as i am using it a lot myshelf .
    It was great taking the courage to admit!
    Beautiful shot btw!

  • sal Vera September 16, 2011 03:58 pm

    Wonderful articule, always I keep learning with these posts, and never stop doing it. beautiful pics of your daughter, I wander to get blush away the background ,what was the distance of your shot?..

  • TheTXPhotog September 16, 2011 02:50 pm

    Great photo and even more impressive that it was a noon shot.

  • Florian September 16, 2011 02:43 pm

    Nice post!
    I am wondering, however, how you changed the wb in photoshop, when you only shot jpgs that day. I always thought, changing wb is only possible with raws.

  • Jay Fitzpatrick September 16, 2011 09:18 am

    A beautiful picture of a beautiful girl. I hope she is well. Thanks for the tips.

  • Valerie September 16, 2011 06:08 am

    Wow! Thanks for sharing this with us. Frankly, I think the image is so wonderful that an assistant/external light/reflectors wouldn't have improved it.

  • Jenny September 16, 2011 05:36 am

    My apologies...I see now that you did explain it at the end of the paragraph. I have always used my hand...thought that was an inexperienced make-shift way of doing it so I'm glad to hear it really is an effective method. Still learning terms such as wide aperture and long focal length so I will need to look into that. Thanks again for the post, Rachel. Lots of great tips :)

  • Jenny September 16, 2011 05:16 am

    Please forgive my sophomoric understanding of terms but could you please explain how you 'flag your lens' to keep the sun spots out of your photos (I tried to Google the term and found nothing). I understood what you meant by the gist of your post and what you would use if you had assistance, but you did not explain how you did it alone. Thank you!

  • Nathan Morgan September 16, 2011 04:49 am

    Thanks for the good insight. Definitely wish I had read this when I first start asking and learning about Natural Light Photography. Especially spot on about watching for dappling and being aware that a grass reflects green light, a pool blue light etc. Happy shooting everyone and price responsibly!- Nathan Morgan

    A sample of my portraits including some natural light-midday sun shots
    http://www.nathanmorgan.com/?p=173

  • Mohamed Ghuloom September 16, 2011 04:40 am

    I liked this shot because of the rays coming from the left.. Very delight colors

  • Lauren September 16, 2011 04:18 am

    Love this post! I have to do the mid-day shoots often of adults and kids and this post helped remind me to think ahead. Thank you!

  • Ryan September 16, 2011 02:16 am

    I absolutlely loved this post and the picture as well. You could not be more spot on with the statement, when shooting your favorite subject (your children) you need to work on their schedule. I love shooting my kids, but it always happens that they are only willing to cooperate in the summer, on 90 degree days, after lunch. Since my boys love the outdoors so much, I have recently taken to getting them on nature walks at a local preserve. Like you mentioned, watching for the light coming through the leaves is especially important as well as increasingly difficult with a moving subject. I recently captued one that I will cherish for quite some time that really captures the two of them and their 'connection' perfectly.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rjweyer/6084047332/

    Another trick that I have learned was to introduce wather into the equation...either with squirt guns, hoses or lawn sprinklers. The results are extremely fun.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rjweyer/5927526447/in/photostream

    Thanks again for a wonderful post...something I can definitely relate to and have benefited from your points.

  • Verena September 16, 2011 01:21 am

    Great article and Indeed a difficult topic, but really well explained. I actually have a picture to prove that the lighting in the magic hour before sunset can be just as difficult. Here I've got really bright sun-light coming from the side while everything else is already really in the shade. I had to do lots of post-processing and still some of the colours remain washed out. Some shots just can't wait for the perfect light.

    http://experimentsinexperience.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/waiting-for-better-times

  • Erik Kerstenbeck September 16, 2011 12:36 am

    Hi

    Really great treatment of this difficult subject. Like you mentioned, often one cannot wait around for The Golden Hour due to multiple contraints - you just need to work with what you have! I like to carry light modifiers like diffusers and reflectors, but if you are by yourself, usually these cant be deployed. The shots of this model were all around 11AM in California on a super clear day! Last two used some fill flash.

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/08/21/vintage-glam/

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