Sometimes Harsh, Direct Sunlight Can Be Beautiful

When it comes to my photoshoots, I almost always look for shade. I find managing harsh, direct sunlight to be a problem for a number of reasons but I may have to give it another shot. In the video below Phillip Dixon shows us that not only is it possible to directly light your subject with the sun, it can produce stunning results.

Log in or register to post comments


Man the location is almost more interesting than the model LOL Beautiful!

Great video and interesting techniques in the middle of the desert in what must have been scorching sunlight!

Where on earth is this place??

While I'm not sure, this looks like it could be around the Salton Sea in CA. Even if its not, you can find locations similar to this out there. Cool place to shoot with a lot of interesting places and scenery, if you can get over the smell.

It looks like El Mirage Dry Lake near Victorville, CA. Awesome place to shoot and a lot of shooting, both pro and otherwise, happens there. I noticed they pitched a big white silk for some of the shots so it wasn't all photographed in direct sunlight.

This is a little tough, those shadows are really long... thats nice direct sunlight, but I'd still be willing to bet its a nice time of day.

This would be much more difficult at 12noon, this is certainly an early afternoon or late morning - but that light is very nice and I'm having trouble saying this light harsh, its just not perfect...

Nice video...

It's not so much the harsh sunlight that's hard to work with as much as all the shadows it creates. So much easier to control is in wide open landscape. Look at pictures from burning man, as an example.

james darden's picture

Nice but it would have been nice for those who don't typically shoot in that kind of strong light to have give a brief talk as what and why he did what he did. Although I'm sure a portion of the final effect was done in post.

I've never been afraid of shooting in direct sunlight -- so long as I have a plan to fill in harsh shadows. With all of that salt, who needs bounce cards???? :-)

This is a beautiful shoot, thanks for sharing.

Man I need to find some cool location like this... but around Montreal... not that easy! :) :) :)

dhani borges's picture

The fact that the ground is a giant fill makes the lighting just perfect

I think what really makes these photos work so well is the muted palette... all about art direction. Granted the model, the wardrobe, the composition and post work all help it come to life, I really think that's what makes these pics so awesome.

And as someone else said, the sun is pretty freaking low on the horizon here, so you're not getting the big ugly deep eye sockets.

cool video,
this reminds me of Hunt's Scapegoat

Pye Jirsa's picture

I agree, harsh sunlight can create great effects and is totally workable. However, there are no shadows on her face, like in the eyes, under the nose, etc.

This means that either the ground (which look like the great salt lake salt flats) was acting as a giant soft-box filling light back in her face, or they were shooting while the sun was maybe not on the horizon, but still very directional in the sky. So, it wasn't noon day nastiness.

So, I probably wouldn't say this was super "harsh" light, it actually looks quite good. Still though, great shoot and awesome shots.

I used to be scared to shoot in hard sunlight until I shot one last year. If I could shoot in hard sunlight for most of my shoots, I would be happier than shooting with artificial lights or shooting in the shade. The challenge is having the sun positioned where you want. Having nice blue skies and beautiful clouds are a huge bonus. Naturally, your background is also important, so it's not easy to pull off. This shoot was amazing.

The location is Coyote Lake. It's between Daggett and Fort Irwin, CA just north of Barstow on I-15. I was stationed there for 2 years and know the area well. I looks as though they did the shoot just north of the early man dig site on the south end of the lakebed not too far off of the highway. The pictures were shot facing north... the mountain range in the background is the south end of NASA's Goldstone Deep Space Network Facility.

definetly not midday, the extra dynamic range of the hassy helps pull those highlights in too.

Very unique opportunity to use the environment as a softbox, but you still have to respect that the photoshoot was done and arranged around harsh lighting on location, not a studio.

I wish more shooters would discuss the permitting required for such locations.