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“Don’t shoot at midday!” How many times have you heard that advice? And that you should only shoot during the Golden Hour?
While it is true the grandest landscape vistas prefer the sun lower on the horizon, there is no reason to pack up your camera and take a nap just because the sun is high. Midday may not be ideal for some types of landscape photography, but there are plenty of high-quality photos to be shot.
NOTE: All photos in this article were taken between 10 am and 3 pm.
Details, details, details. Getting in close and ignoring the wide panoramas during midday will open a new world of possibilities.
It’s a great time for macro photography as there is ample light for the smaller subjects (and the lenses used to capture them). Beyond macro, look for snippets of a scene that will help describe your subject alongside the Golden Hour shots.
Barring the grand vista, looks for patterns in your landscapes. Or in any subject, for that matter.
In my opinion, looking for patterns changes something in your mind. While patterns are certainly artistic in nature, for me they switch on my analytical side and help me to see a scene differently.
A diffuser will work wonders for those harsh shadows found at midday. You don’t have to drop a fortune on the coolest model as even tracing paper can be used to defuse the light falling on small objects.
The best diffuser is one I like to call, “passing clouds”. I love to have some light clouds in the middle of the day as it brings an even light to subjects.
Here’s an example of some rather large diffusers (used for the next image, with the help of some flash).
Whether it is the flash that is built into your camera or an external unit (on the hotshoe or off), adding even more light to a scene might seem counterintuitive at first. Yet adding that light can balance the existing light and remove shadows.
For one thing, the extra light your strobe puts out is probably not going to outshine the sun, I hope. This means the highlights in a scene will hold steady while that extra light gets up under hat brims, eye sockets or any other areas with shadows.
You may need to play around with your strobe’s power (either directly in manual mode or by using your camera’s flash exposure compensation) to get the balance just right.
Have you ever seen those shots with the sun high in the sky and half a dozen (or more) rays emitting from the center of it? Have you wondered how to get such a shot?
It’s really quite easy. Switch to Aperture Priority mode and close down your aperture. That’s it! The more closed the aperture, the more those rays are accentuated, Now all you have to do is frame an interesting composition.
Here are a few more tips on starbursts and sun flares.
Some people believe that once the sun is high in the sky, directly overhead, the light is all the same. This is not true.
While there may be a 15-minute span of time when the light really is the same from any angle, the rest of the time you can find better light by slightly changing your camera angle or position.
Take a look at these sun-dried peppers from Bhutan. Coming upon the peppers I noticed their vibrant red color, giving a clear warning about the spices within. But the first shot was not the best.
When I moved around to the other side of the peppers, that slight change in the sun’s angle (or, more accurately, my relation to the sun’s angle) made all the difference in a capturing the essence of the peppers.
If the sun is coming in from high overhead, why not get up higher and shoot with it at your back? All these shots are from a third story hotel window looking down on street life in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Photography is certainly not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. While many landscape photographers will tell you there is nothing good to shoot in the middle of the day, there are areas of the planet which lend themselves nicely to wide landscapes in bright light.
I am thinking specifically of the higher places, like Nepal, Bhutan and the Andes, to name a few. The same applies to landscapes as to those peppers mentioned above. Sometimes all it takes is turning around to notice the sun is slightly better in one direction than another. Here are some examples of midday light from around the world.
The time of year can also help. In places like Iceland in the winter, the midday sun is still very low in the sky as compared to the summer.
I agree that grand landscapes with amazing light are usually not found at midday. The Golden Hour holds its name for good reason. But that doesn’t mean you need to hide inside and stop shooting when the clock approaches noon!
Get out there and look for the type of subjects you like, but in midday light. Experiment and see what you can make come alive while other photographers wait for sunset.