5 Tips For Taking Photos In Summer Sun

Summer is almost here! Once June hits, people tend to think it’s summer. But it’s not. It is not officially summer until June 21st. I know this because it’s also my birthday. How cool is it that my birthday falls on the longest day of the year and the first day of summer. 😉

With the arrival of summer comes the bright summer sun. Many people look forward to the sunshine after months of winter weather. But for photographers, the bright summer sun means we have to get creative when taking pictures. The sun creates what we call “hard light”. Because it’s so far away and takes up such a small portion of the sky the sun creates harsh shadows that are unflattering when taking pictures of people. Over the years I’ve learned a few tricks, I’d like to share with you, for dealing with the harsh sunlight.

1) Come back later – If you are out in the middle of the day when the sun is the highest in the sky you are going to get the some of the worst light for taking pictures of your family and friends. If you can, come back later. Wait for the sun to be lower. The closer the sun is to the horizon the softer the light gets. For example, my nephew’s senior photos were scheduled for 10 am. Not the best time of day, but since the shoot would be at the Oregon coast I figured we’d have some good cloud cover. Of course the day of the shoot the sun was shining brightly without a cloud in the sky. I went ahead with the shoot using the tips I’m sharing with you today. After the photo shoot was over, I waited until evening when the sun was setting and made my nephew re-shoot several of his photos. (The perks of being an aunt)As you can see from the photo on the left, the sun was bright and casting harsh shadows. To keep my nephew from squinting into the sun, I had him turn his back to the sun. But that put his face in deep shadow making it difficult to see his face against the bright background. When we came back to this spot later in the day, the light was much better. The light is more even and my nephew’s face is brighter making him the focal point of the portrait.

2) Wait for a cloud – Most of the time we can’t come back to a location later, especially if we are on vacation. If there are clouds in the sky, wait for one to pass over the sun. The cloud will scatter the light from the sun, making it softer light. For an example see the photo’s below.

In the photo on the left, my niece’s face is half in shadow and half in light. See how one eye is deep in the shadow. Notice the hard line on her left cheek where light changes to shadow. She was jumping on the tramoline in hard sunlight. Shortly after taking that photo a cloud moved infront of the sun and my niece sat down on the trampoline, enabling me to get the shot on the right. Notice how her face is evenly lit. No hard lines of light to shadow and both of her eyes have the same amount of light. However I don’t think she was very happy with me taking the second photo, even though the light was better. LOL!

3) Look for open shade – So what do you do if you can’t come back later, and there are no clouds? Look for open shade. Open shade is the spot just inside the shade, where your subject is still illuminated by the light. But watch out . . . . not all shade is good shade.

This is what’s called “dappled light”. The light filters through the trees creating hot spots of light. Not a good look! This was one of my first attempts at using shade . . . before I really understood what I was doing.

This photo of my parents was taken in open shade. The side of this old barn was a perfect place to take their annual Christmas photo. The barn created the necessary shade to get the even lighting I was looking for. The sunlight spilled around the barn illuminating them with the softer light. It’s one of my favorite photos of my parents. Aren’t they cute? 😉

4) Put your subjects back to the sun – These last 2 tips are to help when there are no clouds and no shade to work with. My nephew wanted some of his senior pictures taken on a dock at his summer camp. The dock has special meaning for my nephew, so skipping it because the light was bad wasn’t an option.

I had my nephew turn his back to the sun. You can see from the hard shadow lines on his shoulder, arm and the dock, this was taken in bright sun light. The sun reflecting off the dock added light back to my nephews face. In the picture on the right, I used both the softer evening light (tip #1), and having my subject turn her back to the light. The softer evening light eliminates the harsh shadow lines and having her back turned to the sun lights up her hair beautifully.

5) Fill light – Fill light is a term used to describe adding light into the shadows. This can be done with a reflector (an object that reflects light) or a flash.

In this photo you can see the hard lines on her nose and cheek where the light transitions from light to shadow. It’s distracting and not very flattering.

I pulled out my reflector and asked the young lady’s sister to hold it. The reflector bounced light back into the shadows evening out the light creating a much more flattering image.

Usually only professional photographers travel with reflectors. You can also use the flash on your camera for fill light.

While we were waiting for the sun to get low enough for sunset pictures, my nephew sat on this log to play his guitar. I decided to take the opportuinty to catch the moment. However, to get my nephew exposed bright enough, the background was to light. I didn’t have an assistant that day to hold my reflector for me. I’d also left my “big girl” flash in my car. So I had to settle for using the pop up flash on my camera.

I changed my exposure settings to get the background exposed properly. Then I enabled my pop-up flash to illuminate my nephew so he didn’t fall into shadow. Even though I had to utilize a tool most all photographers cringe over, I’m really happy with the results. This is one of my favorite photo’s from my nephew’s photo shoot.

You can get the photo’s you want. Sometimes you just have to get creative and use the tools that are avaliable to you.

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  • Dale Hardin

    You’re doing a wonderful and very professional job with this blog, Teresa. I’m very impressed. Will talk with you in Chicago about a couple of suggestions. So looking forward to seeing you again.ReplyCancel

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