How To Shoot In Direct Light

Light is every photographer’s best friend and worst enemy. We’ve all been there at one time or another when we plan for a certain kind of light and due to forces out of our control experience another. As someone who is used to photographing while traveling, I have had many fair shares of mishaps when I plan to be at a specific location by a particular time. Life gets in the way by making you arrive late, thus missing your precious window time of the right light. Let’s face it natural light waits for no one.

It took a few frustrating situations before I was able to shift my mindset for when things like this happen. And you know what? Bad timing, missed lighting, changes in lighting, you will all experience it. So instead of getting very upset and giving up hope of capturing any decent photos change how you think of the situation. Approach it as a challenge, roll with the punches, and let your creativity get the best of you. Below we have put together a few tips for you so that when you do get caught with that annoying and dreaded direct light, you will know how to handle it.

1. Create your own shade

A great way to conquer direct sunlight is to create your own shade, that’s right take that stupid sun. If there is no natural shade, like trees in your area, then make it yourself using things such as umbrellas, or cardboard. The idea is to use anything that would cast a shadow on your subject to block out the intense light of the sun.

2. Move!

If you cannot move the subject, then try moving around yourself to find the best possible angle and light. You would also be able to present your subject from a different perspective which could make the direct light work in your favor. Just don’t be afraid to try it at this point you have nothing else to lose.

3. Making sure you have patience

We get that this isn’t always possible, but if you have the opportunity then definitely wait it out for a bit. I mean sometimes all it takes is a few moments and the slight change in light will do wonders for your shots. This is why most photographers will shoot during sunrise or sunset. If there are clouds overhead, you could try waiting until some of them cover the sun. Just make sure you’re ready for when it does happen because you will have to act fast.

4. Use a filter

Two filters could help you tame direct sunlight. The first is the neutral density filter. This filter reduces the amount of light getting into your camera. The other is the polarizing filter, which does the same thing. A polarizing filter can also reduce reflections and help you have more control over the colors in your photograph.

5. Avoid close-ups, go wide instead

Photographing your subjects up close under direct light is a big mistake, and will be asking for trouble. Shadows may become more pronounced, so it’s better to go wide when taking photos under the mid-day sun.

6. Go for the silhouettes

This isn’t giving up. This is getting creative with what you’ve got. After all, silhouettes are very dramatic and mysterious so it’s not a bad way to get those interesting photos you wouldn’t normally think of taking. To take a silhouette, you will need to set your camera’s exposure to the brightest part of the scene; this should be your background, not your subject.

7. Get creative with your shadows

Look for interesting shadows or pockets of light and use this to your advantage. Maye uses the sunbeams and shadows cast through a car’s window or shade from a building. Just lean into the possibilities, and you will be happy with the results.

8. Use your surroundings

This will help if you try backlighting, which is having the light directly behind your subject. This can be tricky but is possible. This can sometimes cause your subject’s eyes to appear very dark.  Use your natural surroundings to bounce the light back onto them. A few ways to do this are through an actual reflector which is built for this. You could have an assistant hold it. You can also use a white wall if you’re shooting downtown somewhere.

9. Be prepared

Don’t ever show up to a shoot unprepared to shoot with direct light. You honestly never know what could end up happening. If it’s a paid shoot, come up with a game plan beforehand. If you are shooting for yourself, make it a challenge to get as creative as you can. This will help you in the future.

10. Don’t be afraid

Challenge is good, change is good. We often shy away from them both because it makes us uncomfortable and whether we want to admit it or not we all are afraid of failure. As long as you are always open to new possibilities and new ways of doing things, then you will never fail. So change your mindset, be positive, and always remember where there’s a will there’s a way.


How do you shoot in direct lighting? Share us your thoughts in the comments below.

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