How to Capture Beautiful Images in Harsh Sunlight

Are you prepared to handle a session where the natural lighting conditions are difficult and there is no shade to turn to? Here are three techniques you can use to get beautiful photos in harsh conditions.

In this tutorial, Jay P. Morgan of The Slanted Lens tackles the challenge of photographing a light-haired model in a shadeless area on a bright day. To elaborate on what to avoid, Morgan shows visual examples of the problems that a strong sun creates. This includes blown out highlights, hard shadows, and destroyed skin. All of these are major problems that would be very difficult to fix in postproduction.

To battle these effects, the first thing he does is turn his model away from the sun if possible so that it is coming from behind her, and acts as a backlight. This allows him to adjust his exposure for a darker background. From there he uses three different techniques for properly exposing her face. In the first technique, his assistant holds a reflector to bounce the sunlight back onto her face. This created a beautiful image, with little equipment cost. The issue is that it limits the angle that he is able to shoot and provides little control of the light.

A second method Morgan uses is to hold a translucent reflector over the head of the model to create even light on her face and body. This technique provides perfect lighting in the harsh sun. However, it also creates a strong shadow on the ground below preventing him from capturing the entire scene.

In his last example, Morgan uses a strobe to overpower the sun. The primary benefit of this method is the control over the lighting that it allows. He was able to make his background as dark as he wanted while still getting as much light on the model’s face as he needed to expose her correctly. It allowed him to shoot at any angle without being affected by the sun. However, this method required the most expensive gear, since it needed high powered strobes with high-speed sync as an option.

Eventually, you will have to learn to photograph your subjects in less than perfect conditions. Learning each of these techniques and being prepared will eventually save you from one of these nightmare sessions. This is a quality video to watch for any photographer who feels unprepared for tough natural light.

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2 Comments

I am really surprised there no mention of using a CPL.

You don't need the most expensive gear to overpower the sun. Depending on the needed working distance you can chose from GODOX TT685, AD200, AD360 or AD600. The last one is the strongest and it costs as much as the Nikon SB5000 or the Canon 600ex-rt.