5 Tips for Taking Photos in Bright Sunlight

Marianne Stenger
16th July 2018

By now you’ve probably heard about that magical ‘golden hour’ for photography, and while it’s true that you can usually get better photographs when the sun is lower in the sky, it isn’t always possible to shoot right after the sun rises or just before it sets.

This is especially true in the summertime when the sun shines brighter and longer. One way to work around this problem is to look for some shade in the form of a tree, an awning or an umbrella.

But with that said there will also be times when you want to shoot in direct sun in order to add a particular effect to your photographs or simply because no shade is available and you can’t afford to wait for conditions to change.

So if you can’t or don’t want to avoid taking photos in bright sunlight, here are some tips for embracing it in your photography.

1. Shoot in manual mode

The first thing you should do when shooting in harsh sunlight is switch to manual mode, as this will give you a lot more control. You can decrease your camera’s sensitivity to light by setting the ISO to its lowest setting and ensure that less light gets through to the sensor by experimenting with faster shutter speeds and a smaller aperture.

It’s also a good idea to shoot in RAW rather than jpeg, as this will make it easier fix problems like blown out highlights, lost detail in the shadows, and white balance issues in post-processing.

2. Find the right angle

If the light is casting harsh shadows on your subject, sometimes all you have to do is change your angle. It’s generally best to shoot with the light coming from behind you to avoid backlit photos, but if you’re shooting people, facing the sunlight may cause them to squint, which isn’t flattering.

So you may have to experiment with a few different angles to get a good shot. Try to position yourself in such a way that the sun isn’t casting overly harsh shadows on your subject’s face but isn’t causing him or her to squint into the sun either, even if this means shooting from down low or up high.

3. Use a lens hood and polarising filter

Using a lens hood can help to shield your lens from harsh sunlight and prevent lens flare, which is what happens when direct sunlight hits the front element of your lens. You’ll notice it as a circular blob or just a general haze in your photographs.

Another useful tool for taking photos in bright sunlight is a polarising filter. A polarising filter is a special piece of glass that can be fixed over your lens, and helps reduce glare from reflected surfaces. It can also increase the vibrancy of colours and help you better capture bright blue skies and crystal clear waters.

4. Take advantage of your pop-up flash

It may seem odd to use your flash in bright sunlight, but doing so can lighten shadows, which is why this technique is known as “fill flash.” An external flash will always do a better job of this, but if all you have is your camera’s pop-up flash, it can still be better than nothing.

When you’re shooting against a bright sunny background, you can use the pop up flash to throw some extra light on your subject and eliminate harsh shadows. Keep in mind that in order for this to work, your subject will need to be relatively close to the camera, as the range of your built-in flash is only about 12 feet.

5. Get creative with shadows

Bright sunlight can cast some harsh shadows, but there are times when this can give your photographs a dramatic effect. For instance, if you’re photographing a building or row of trees, it can be interesting to find a way to capture the long shadows that these objects are casting.

If you’re photographing people and the light is too harsh for them to face the camera without squinting, shooting them as silhouettes is another option. In order to get a silhouette, you’ll need shoot against the sun and underexpose your subject. It might take some experimentation to get this technique right, but it can make for some stunning photographs.

If you're a keen photographer and want to get more photography tips, then head over to our interviews where we speak to photographers of all genres about their work or check out our beginners photography guide.