Any professional photographer will tell you to learn the fundamentals, principals and basics of photography — the rules — then learn how to break them. One of those photography rules you may have heard, don’t shoot in the midday, or direct overhead sunlight. So, in this photography tip, I’ll explain how to break the midday sunlight photography rule to improve your photos.
You must first understand the characteristics of the position of the sun relative to your subject. In midday sunlight photography, the sun rests directly overhead, shadows are short, the light is specular and harsh, contrast is at its highest, and you’re probably ready for lunch.
While the best quality of light to capture photos with the sun resides in the early mornings or late afternoons when the sun projects itself from an oblique angle and the natural shadows are longest in their length. This quality of light will flatter your subject more than direct midday sunlight, especially during the Blueor Golden Hour and you can calculate it here on SunbouncePro.com.
Now for the photographer that wants to improve their photography and excel even more, here are some midday sunlight photography tips:
- Place your subject in open shade, or natural shadows created by a building, tree, or other obstacles that block or diffuse the sun. Ideally, especially for a professional photographer look and feel, use a Sun-Scrim,Sun-Cage, or Sun-Swatter to create your open shade.
- Once you’ve placed your subject in natural or manmade open shade, you must “fill” the subject in order to create images where the background remains visible, not blown out, especially when exposing for your subject’s skin tone.
There are two ways to achieve this, with artificial light such as a fill-flash BOUNCE-WALL or you can reflect natural sunlight onto your subject with photography reflectors like a SUNBOUNCER or SUN-MOVER. All three solutions will professionally improve your overall images plus your photography. Sun position ultimately is about reposition of either you, your subject, or the sunlight itself.
Now that we understand sun position in midday sunlight photography, lets discuss sun placement relative to your subject’s position. The normal rule in photography when it comes to the placement of the sun is to keep it to the left, right, or back of your subject and never look into the sun directly, especially through a camera lens as this will cause serious damage to your eyes to include permanent blindness—always use caution when the sun resides directly behind your subject.
One of the major disadvantages when the sun’s placement rests behind you the photographer, is that your subject will probably squint, and you’ll have to provide them a one, two, three count which interrupts the flow of a photo shoot. The quality of light sucks in this type of sun placement because the light is more direct, specular, and higher in contrast relative to your subject.
Not a flattering light by any means when compared to the beauty found in reflected or diffused light, especially when working with female subjects and if you wait for the clouds, you’ll only get a flat, low-contrast diffused light quality which is not flattering to your subject either.
The general rule in outdoor midday sunlight photography is to avoid direct sunlight overhead. Ideally the sun’s best position for photography lies at the three, nine or 12 o’clock positions, but not the six o’clock position. But if you’re a professional photographer and have the bills to go with it, you know that the bank’s interest calculates on 24-hour days, not time increments on a clock.
Thus, you must practice photography throughout the day and as mentioned earlier in this photography tip, you accomplish great photos with the right photography tools to diffuse, reflect, or redirect the sunlight provided by Mother Nature.
Think of the sun as your main key light source, especially when sunlight is reflected. Sunlight can also act as a hair or accent light source when placed to the side or behind your subject. In this methodology you’re basically using one light source, the sun, as multiple lights — when reflected, sunlight is your main or key light, and the backlight from the sun placement is your hair and accent lights.
Who needs expensive studio lights and an AC or DC electrical plug when the sun is the most powerful source of energy and it’s free?
Ultimately when you take sun placement and position into consideration in midday sunlight photography, your photos will improve. It’s about paying attention to the light quality through subject placement in open shade or manmade shade and reflecting light back into the scene. These photography techniques will benefit your photos and set your images apart from your peers.
When you pay attention to sun placement and position in midday sunlight photography, the sun won’t stop you, it will energize your mind and light your subject in a flattering manner and your outdoor photography will rule. Now go break the rules in photography with the proper photographic light tools.