Most of the time, taking pictures in bright and harsh sunny conditions is a huge challenge, especially when shooting people and portraits. Unfortunately, you need to understand lighting the conditions and be creative in your planning process and set up. If you think just going out on a wonderful sunny day to take photos is a good idea, you might be disappointed, as too much sunlight can create problems and result in disappointed results. One of the biggest problems is shadow and uneven light, especially in mid-day sun. Shadows will occur on the ground, as well as sometimes on the face, causing a dappled unwanted effect son your subject. Not only do you need to understand the natural lighting, you need to consider your subject being photographed, there will often be a squint like expression or a frown from facing into direct sunlight as it is hard on the eyes.

How to overcome the challenges of shooting in bright sunlight on a budget.

There are three very simple tips that any photographer can apply without splashing out on expensive equipment or camera gear. Also, the lighter and more portable your camera kit, the better for you. As a photographer, I am fortunate to have my own studio and lighting, but I must say, natural lighting is always my first choice if the job allows. 

Use a Fill in Flash

Let your flash burn out the unwanted shadows. This is a simple process to photographers understanding the manual setting on their camera, although this might even work for those shooting in auto mode. The principle is simple and all about getting the correct compensation to the everything looks balanced and clean.

Firstly, you will need to do a test shot with the appropriate and correct settings:

  • ISO 100 – 200 in bright sunshine (this will eradicate any form of noise)
  • Set your aperture, or your shutter speed accordingly, to ensure that your DOP and light metering is correctly exposed
  • Finally, your kelvin/WB to the correct temperature required
  • Now take the shot and assess the shadows and dappled lighting, this is where the flash becomes important

A powerful speedlight should work, provided you are in close range to your subject as the light needs to override the sunshine to blow away the unwanted shadows on the subject. Turn up the flash compensation and repeat the test shot on your same settings until the all is correctly compensated and the result is favorable. For those photographers shooting in auto, let the camera control your settings, put please pop your flash to it fires. You will need to know how to adjust the compensation or flash power manually though, it is simple, just look on google and follow the simple steps.

Use a Reflector

A reflector is light, folds up and very portable and inexpensive. A reflector will provide more light bounce than most speedlights and is often the preferred option. Use the white surface to bounce the light onto your subject in order to bounce real light, not the silver or the gold. Note that you will require assistance to hold and direct the angle of the bounce as well as the distance the reflector will need to be from the subject. The closer the distance the harder the bounce and the harsher the effect. Most reflectors have a built-in diffuser, so it the sun is shining in the wrong place to use the reflector to bounce the light, use the diffuser to diffuse the rays of sunshine to create a balanced and even natural light above the subject. Thereafter, you might need to just edit out any sign of the diffuser in post that might have been in the frame when you snapped the shot.

Position your subject in the Shade

By pacing the subject in the shade, you will not have any issues as the light on your subject will be even. You can stand in the sun, just ensure the subject is in the shade. I will normally try find a bright white building adjacent to the subject which I will indirectly use as my reflector to bounce onto the subject. This often works well and creates an amazing mood, offering a kind of fill in option to your subject.

I am trusting that these small a tips will be useful to all photographers that are shooting in this lighting condition. If you are still getting frustrated with your result, consider attending a short outdoor lighting workshop to shed “some light” on the subject.