If you are anything like me,and sitting around waiting for the magic of Golden Hour before taking photos is simply not possible, learning how to shoot in harsh sunlight is something you should put high on your agenda! Although less than ideal, it is possible to get some amazing results so here are a bunch of hints and tips that will help make the most out of a bad situation.
I’m not going start talking about textbooks and written rules, simply going to give real advice based on my real experience of trial and error.
Adjust White Balance Manually
Something that is always overlooked by amatuer Photographers is setting the white balance.
All cameras will nowadays have several auto white balance options but I always, without exception, set mine manually using the kelvin scale. (k)
“Kelvin is a unit of measurement used to describe the hue of a specific light source. This is not necessarily related to the heat output of the light source but rather the color of the light output. The higher the Kelvin value of the light source, the closer the light’s color output will be to actual sunlight.”
For rule of thumb, I set my camera to 5000k and take a shot. If the photo is too warm, I reduce the Kelvin number, if it’s too cold then I increase the kelvin number.
It’s always best to get it right in camera rather than mess about too much in editing.
Position of the Subject
I usually try and have the subject with their back to the sun which may sound kind of backwards to many of you.
Firstly, there is nothing worse that your subject squinting in every photo so get their eyes away from the sun. The issue then arises that the subjects face is then going to be theoretically shaded so you need to be able to compensate for that using your camera.
I always use spot metering mode on the camera when shooting in harsh sunlight. What this does is allow me to select the specific point I want to base my exposure on, with portraits it would be the face. Here is a basic reference.
That being said, I always still expose to the brightest highlight which often would leave the subject underexposed anyway… however, by increasing the shadows in post production you will get a perfectly exposed image.
My rule to myself is “Trust your shadows!” – always ensure you do not overexpose the background even if it means the subject is under exposed. It’s easy to expose the subject a little more but impossible to get the detail of a blown out overexposed background back.
For portraits you will want to undoubtedly be shooting at the largest open aperture possible, for example I tend to shoot between F1.4 and F2.8 depending on the scenario. So you will need to increase the shutter speed to something like 1/8000 to compensate the aperture and ensure you have the lowest ISO set. This will enable you to get the Bokeh ( background blur ) that will make the portrait stand out while maintaining a correct exposure.
Although not the most refined lighting you will ever see, and certainly not perfect with regards to shadowing, but it will certainly help get a better result.
Improve the Scene
So, you are still struggling with shadows in the midday sun…. don’t worry, you are not the only one. There are ways of eliminating the shadows by using other accessories.
One of the least expensive and easiest things to use is a reflector. Often coming as a 5-in-1 package ( think reversible and unzippable) that allows for different types of reflection of light from gold to silver foil and more matted white and black, now I won’t go into reasons to use each of them but basically you can use the reflector to bounce the ambient sunlight back into the subjects face and fill the shadows.
Here is a little video showing this.
Another way to solve the issues with the harsh sunlight is to use flash to overpower it. This can start to make things a little more difficult as standard flashes can only shoot at 1/200th of a second which will mean that all of the beautiful bokeh you were creating before with the wide open apertures will now disappear as you decrease the aperture to compensate to something like F8….. What to do? Do you sacrifice the bokeh to eliminate the shadow or is there another way? Yes there is!
This is where High Speed Sync capable flashes / strobe lights come in – High Speed Sync essentially allows you to shoot at 1/8000 and in turn, allow you to keep your aperture wider open and keep the bokeh. Here are a few resources to watch that will help to get to grips with using lighting to overcome the lighting conditions.
These are just the things that I do when shooting in harsh sunlight, it would be awesome to know what your experiences have been in these scenarios and what you did to help fix things.
Don’t forget to let us know your thoughts below.