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Can You Photograph People in the Harsh Midday Sun?

Yes, yes, and yes! While photographing in the middle of the day presents its own set of challenges, it can be done with great results.  Sure, taking pictures when the sun is high will not give you the dreamy colors and even exposures of golden hour.  High noon (and the couple hours either side of twelve o'clock pm)  gives you harsh shadows, some unwanted contrast, and squinty eyes.    It is my hope that this post will give you a few tricks to use when working with clients and photographing your family in the middle of the day.  

Up first, where to shoot.  Find some open shade.  What exactly is open shade? Open shade is simply a shady area, usually found under or beside something.  For example, open shade can easily be found under an awning, next to buildings, beneath leafy branches of a tree, or any other area the direct beams of the sun are blocked and create a shadow.  Finding shady spots when the sun is high is a lifesaver when trying to photograph mid-day.  You can even make your own shade.  Think umbrellas, quilts being hung out to dry, or hoisting kayaks about your head.  Let your creativity soar!

In the images below, you can see the open shade.  Thanks to this little guy's mama for the pull back image I can show you.  I found a mostly shaded spot underneath a giant tree to photograph his cake smash.  I have circled the hot spots and drawn a line where the sun and shadow meet.  One of the final images is included below. Nice, even exposure and no splotches of light to throw off the consistency of the image.  

The next couple images also illustrate finding open shade.  My little guy was playing in his little fort in our back yard.  You can see the sun I drew (I'm an artist, huh?!) and the tiny bit of shade I labeled.  You can find small bits of shade everywhere when you train your eyes to look for it.  

Secondly, you can use the sun to your advantage and create images where the light plays a role.  A few months back I wrote a post with tips to create backlit images.  Take notice of the position of the sun.  If you position your subject with his or her back to the sun or angled a bit, you will be able to keep the focal point (example: your subject's face) at an even exposure.  Find an angle that keeps hot spots off your subjects and their eyes open. Unless, of course, you are wanting to capture a scrunchy toddler face.  One of the bonuses of shooting mid day is that you can capture the sky.  In so many images when you expose for the face, the sky blows out.  Mid day is the perfect time to capture detail in the skies as well.  Yay for big puffy clouds!

Below are examples of photographs taken with mid-day light with no open shade in sight.  The one with my boys wading through a soybean field is taken with the sun on their backs.  This makes it easy to avoid squinty eyes and is able to show the detail in the sky.  The black and white image is of my sweet niece.  The lighting was about the same as the soybean field picture, but as you can see there is no detail in the sky.  The sun is behind her, giving the image a backlit feel.  She is also angled a bit to allow for an even exposure on her face.  

One of my favorite ways to combat the harsh mid-day light is to shoot indoors.  The large amount of sunlight outside filters through windows perfectly.  I tend to schedule many of my sessions in homes or establishments during the bright times of day.  Window light is such a great light source.  It can be used to backlight an image and is soft enough to illuminate straight on.  (And remember when shooting indoors to turn off all artificial light to minimize color cast and white balance problems.) 

Ah, window light, I love you. 

In addition to where to shoot,  I have some tips on how to make shooting mid-day a little easier.  

I love using Spot Metering to get an exact area to meter for light.  For example, I almost always meter off my subject's cheek area under the eye to find the settings I want for the image's exposure.

Cloudy day = Perfection.  I read somewhere that clouds are nature's natural soft box.  Overcast skies help cut down on the harsh light and even out hot spots.  I have the cutest clients.  Below are images taken on overcast days.  I love how I did not have to worry about shadows or uneven exposures.

Shooting in RAW format helps recover highlights, shadows, and other components that may be present in your image.  If you slightly overexpose your image (especially in backlit images) you will be able to restore these elements in your photograph. 

And, while it's not a strength of mine, you can most definitely use reflectors or external lighting to shoot during the day.  By using these extra light sources, you can effectively bounce light onto your subject to give you the look you want.  

Always remember to be aware of hot spots and squinty eyes! In the example pictures below I asked my little one, ok bribed with bubble gum, to let me photograph him on both sides of a tree.  The first image is obviously with him looking into the sun.  His eyes are in the shadow and the lighting is just off.  In the second image, I asked him to move to the opposite side of the tree.  The sun was behind him and he was perfectly in a little shady pocket.  When comparing these two images, you can quickly see how positioning in the sun makes a huge difference.  

Is the middle of the day a photographer's dream?  Not really,  but it doesn't have to be a nightmare.  Pick up your camera and try shooting when the sun is high above. 

Allison Wheeler is a lover of lifestyle photography from Norman, Oklahoma. Her eyes were opened to photography by toying with Instagram in 2010. She got a camera soon after and learned to use it by documenting her life with her husband and three young sons. She now happily does the same for others, from births to weddings and almost everything in between. To see Allison's most recent work, visit her Facebook page. She often gets on Pinterest to avoid cleaning her house.

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