Most photographers understand that the best times for shooting are the first hour of daylight and the final hour of dusk, when the light is warmer. But what happens if you can’t go out until noon? This is the most critical interval of the day because the light is more direct and creates extreme contrast and highlights, dark shadows and oversaturated colors.
The following guidelines will teach you how you to use mid-day sunlight to your advantage and take beautiful shots even in the most difficult lighting conditions.
Ignore the default camera metering
If you’re photographing landscapes in mid daylight, you’ll notice a huge contrast among the sky and the foreground, which will totally ruin your shots by ripping the sky off of all its details.
This is because the bright sunlight confuses the camera with the darker tones in the foreground. When you take a shot, the camera can only expose properly for either the sky or the ground, so when the sky is well exposed, the ground is probably too dark and viceversa.
When shooting in the sun, ignore the default camera metering and override it to make sure you capture the bleached details in the sky. Don’t be afraid to play with exposure bracketing and explore the camera’s metering modes and see how they affect your compositions.
Use polarizing filters
The reason why mid sunlight is so critical is also because of the strong reflections, even on apparently nonreflective planes. A polarizing filter will help reduce these harsh reflections and increase color saturation. Another thing polarizers are very handy is photographing forests and trees. Leaves are very reflective and a polarizer can help preserve the natural color of the leaves.
Using filters in mid daylight is also good for capturing that intense blue skies that make travel brochures look so incredibly amazing. Ideally, you want a few silky white clouds in the sky to create contrast with the ground.
To further enhance the effects of a polarizer use it at a right angle to the sun. Also, pay attention when using it on a wide angle lens, as it may darken the sky a bit too much.
If you are going to the beach around noon, you’ll be able to take some great shots with a polarizing filter. The harsh sunlight will deepen the blue of the water, while the polarizer will minimize the glare from nearby trees and turn the sky into an awesome blue-green smoke.
Another filter that will come in handy is the neutral density filter. The ND filter can reduce the amount of light that can enter the lens by up to 3 f-stops. This is especially useful when photographing waterfalls when you need to take long exposures to create that silky effect. It’s also handy for darkening the sky while properly exposing the ground.
Get real close
Noon photography is all about zooming in, so what can you safely photograph around noon? Consider local attraction points, animals, children, statues and basically anything that looks pretty in close proximity.
Color can also be an issue when you’re photographing in a cloudy day. Search for subjects that look jazzy even on a hazy weather. The closer you get to your object, the more the colors seem to intensify. If you attempt to capture the entire scene, everything will seem like giant grey mishmash.
Capturing close-up scenes also help you to remove the great amount of contrast that appears in wide landscape photos. The smaller the slice of sky you capture in your shots, the better.
Photograph in the shade
The truth is, regardless of what you’re photographing, the sky will always appear bleached at noon. So the easiest way to avoid mid-day sunlight is to simply hide from it. That’s why photographing in shades is another useful trick for mid day photography.
Search for shaded areas and photograph your subject among them. Some people enjoy talking walks through the forest at noon. Placing your subject against a dim background will ensure that your exposure comes out totally even. You might need a tripod for this.
The best places to work with are under or around trees, structures or buildings, where the light is softer, even at noon. You might have to lower your shutter speed and use the tripod to get more light into the camera.
Be careful though when photographing below trees. If the wind is continually moving the branches, the sunlight falling on your subject will also be changing . In case you’re after an artistic composition, then this might be a great opportunity to play with light formations.
You’d be surprised by the beauty of the patterns created by shadows, especially when you’re photographing people.
Use a fill flash
If you want to explore shadows even further, take your umbrellas or external flashes with you to the location. Umbrellas allow you to even the sun’s harshness and diffuse the light, while the flashes eliminate the shadows the sun makes when it’s at its highest.
Consider the direction from which the sunlight is falling on your subject and see if there is too much shade below the eyes or under the chin. This is when the fill flash can add some light on some of these darker areas.
Usually, the default flash will work fine. Just select the “Fill Flash” mode so you don’t use too much light when just a small area needs to be even out with the rest of the shot.
Use a reflector or a diffusion panel
Reflectors and diffusers are yet another way to minimize the contrast between your subject and the rest of the scene. Use them in both daylight and shaded areas to get an even fill light in a specific area.
If you don’t have any of these, there are other practical ways to diffuse light with items found at your local store. You can make your own reflector by picking up a larger foam board, while diffusers can be replaced by any translucent item, such as a simple bed sheet. Also, using a lens hood will reduce the sunspots on your shots.
The sun behind the subject
Shooting in the sun behind your subject allows you to keep their faces in a smooth shade and expose for their faces, while the sun boosts the colors and adds a sense of drama to the photo.
Turn your subject slightly away from the sun, so it is still behind them and the face is still shadowed but have a bit more light on one side to create a more artistic shot. Photographing your subject below eye level will also mask the shadows and create a more dramatic image than shooting at eye level.
Lower the ISO
Some photographers set their ISO for the day and then forget about it. Others tend to be all over the place and tweak it all the time to freeze some action and then create an amazing depth of field.
Watch your ISO and you won’t have to struggle with mid-day shots. Bright light often requires a lower ISO, even down to ISO 50 or ISO 64, but good old ISO 100 works well in most cases. If you set your ISO above 400, chances are that you’ll get some really washed out photos.
If you’re shooting in deep shadows at noon, boost the ISO up to 12000 and search for details of some interesting tree, rock or bark and take the shot. Once you get back in full daylight, don’t forget to switch the camera back to its usual settings.
As you can see, there are lots of interesting things to photograph in the mid daylight. All you need to do is follow these simple guidelines and experiment with both your camera and the shades around you and get real close. Leave the landscape photography for the Golden Hour because that’s when you get the best results, anyway.
Shooting in the sun is just as exciting as at other times. Notice the shadows and highlights and if you can’t control both of them, just go with the highlights and let the shadows do their own dance. Play with shadows and use them creatively and if they seem too harsh and the colors aren’t saturated enough, shoot in black and white for some dynamic high-contrast compositions.