Both professional photographers and hobbyists can agree that taking photos in natural light can definitely result in beautiful, compelling shots that bring out the best in the subject. Knowing how to use this resource—which is, after all, free for anyone to use—is key to giving photos a boost in quality with minimal adjustment. Who doesn’t appreciate a good landscape photo with the light highlighting natural wonders just right? Or a romantic portrait taken out in the sun?
For those without access to a studio or shooting out in the open with minimal equipment, natural light is a blessing. There are times, though, when you miss a window of opportunity and have to contend with the glare of the sun beating down on your subjects. Bright sunlight photography can be unflattering, but there are ways to get around this. Here are five tips for taking good photos while in direct sunlight.
Adjust your Angle
When your subject is facing the light source, if it’s a person, they most likely will end up squinty-eyed from the rays pointing directly at their face. This also tends to wash out their complexion and mess with the white balance of the image. The solution to this? Experiment with having your subject turn or face various directions so the light can hit different sections of their body, and you can eyeball which looks best from there.
For non-moving subjects, step around the problem—literally. If you’re interested in photography, you’ve probably seen viral photo compilations of the lengths photographers can go to get the perfect shot: lying prone on the ground, climbing up obstacles, or straining their backs to bend and shoot at the right angle. It might look silly from the outside, but moving around and finding a spot where the light complements your subject instead of detracts from it is a great way to combat the negative effects of direct sunlight photography.
Seek the Shade
You heard right. Looking for shade might seem counterproductive at first to the concept of direct sunlight photography, but using the shady areas in your vicinity in creative ways can soften the harsh sunlight and change the feel of your photos. Without being inside a studio and having materials and props at your disposal, looking around and taking advantage of whatever’s in the environment is an essential skill for any budding photographer.
Brought any props (or even friends!) with you? You can use them to create shadows too! Position them around the subject, decide whether to include them in the frame, and get your shot.
Stick with Silhouettes
Having the light directly behind your subject can obscure it in shadow, making photos seem unviable at first—but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. You can always compose a dramatic silhouette photo using the direct light instead. If you still can’t get a good shot at any other angle, focus on the background and watch the magic happen. This works especially well for sunsets!
Look at the Landscape
Still struggling with getting the lighting to cooperate with your subject? Widen your perspective and you might find there may be more to your surroundings than you think. Capturing a landscape instead of a portrait and going for a wider focus could be the solution. With the bright light shining directly on the environment you can take photos that show all the details in your location—details which might have otherwise been obscured by inconvenient shadows at other times of the day. This also shifts the pressure away from your individual subject matter.
Puzzle it out in Post-Processing
Still not sure about your shots after you’ve tried all the other techniques? Don’t worry—there’s always post-processing your images. Users who use either cameras or mobile phones (or both!) have a myriad of options available to them. While there are now basic built-in editing tools in most galleries in computers and laptops, it’s best to use programs and applications specifically designed for photography.
Using a computer program like Adobe Photoshop or a mobile app like Instasize enables you to adjust the minute details of color and lighting in your photo. Check out the settings for adjusting brightness, contrast, white balance, and saturation. Fiddle with each to find a way to downplay the harsh lighting from your bright sunlight photography!
Keep these tips in mind and shoot in natural light without worrying about what you can achieve at different times of day. Remember, every skill is a learning process, and photography is no different. Try mixing and matching techniques in this list. No matter what kind of equipment you use—camera or phone—there is always room for self-improvement. Who knows? You may one day be surprised by how far you’ve come!