How to shoot photos in harsh sunlight

June 10, 2021
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in Photography
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How to shoot photos in harsh sunlight

Photographers lust for “golden hour” or overcast skies, a natural diffuser for super-soft light. But sometimes the weather isn’t our friend, or your client’s schedule just doesn’t cooperate… What do you do?

Don’t worry. Here are 5 simple things you can do on your next shoot to diffuse harsh sunlight:

  1. Find Shade – Below is a photo with a client at 3PM from Jay Soriano, he simply moved to the shaded side of the building for this shot:james lyle
  2. Shoot for candids – Harsh lighting is tough for portraiture because of the strong shadows on the face, but you can use that to your advantage for a more trendy look with high contrast lighting. Here’s the same client, this time shooting in direct sunlight:
  3. Use a reflector –  A reflector can be your friend during shoots, something like this 5-in-1 reflector from Westcott can save you from harsh sunlight. There are a few ways you can use this, the most popular would be to bounce sunlight off the silver side back onto your client(s). My 2nd best option would be to use the translucent disk to diffuse the harsh sunlight. The 3rd option would be to use the black side to create a shadow and flag off the light. They can, however, be a bit cumbersome to use, so an assistant would be really helpful, or at the very least a good light stand. Be careful though, because even a slight wind can cause these to tumble down.
  4. Use fill flash – Sometimes you can find the perfect shaded area, but because the background isn’t in shade, it can often be overexposed. The best thing you can do here is using a Speedlite as a fill flash. Here’s what you need to do; Step (1) with the flash off, get the perfect exposure for the background. If the client is in the photo, they will be dark. So step (2) is to adjust the flash as necessary to correctly expose your client. Shooting on-camera flash isn’t ideal, so I would recommend using a wireless transmitter and shooting off-camera flash with a diffuser of your choice.
  5. Embrace it – Lastly, I want you to think about scenarios where you can embrace the lighting. An example would be fitness photos where you want harsh light to accentuate muscles, another example is for environmental portraits, such as this one where it’s a little more powerful when the Grand Canyon is lit with harsh lighting:

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