Have you ever found yourself in a situation where being outside with your camera in the middle of the day is the only option? You don't want to not take a portrait session because of it, and you certainly don't want to miss capturing those gorgeous sights! Here are some guidelines to help you navigate the sun and create beautiful images, regardless of the time of day.
1. Know your surroundings + Composition is KEY.
Before you get started, take a look around. Observe your location.
Are there many people in the area? If yes, walk around. Try to find a spot where you can capture the subject without a bystander in the frame.
Does the location have any interesting qualities? Look again. Our brains are wired to filter out information. Often we overlook the ‘ordinary’, which may actually be extraordinary.
Are there any suitable backdrops to photograph your subject?
Look for great qualities and not-so-great qualities. Is there a great marsh view that would double as an amazing background for your subject (or perhaps be the subject itself)? Is there a trash can in the background? Adjust accordingly.
Knowing your surroundings will help you compose beautiful images like an expert. Try to take a minimalist approach when filling the frame. Images with too much going on will cause the viewer to become confused or overlook your image entirely. The viewer should be able to identify the intended subject instantaneously, and it should also be ‘eye-catching’ to pull in their attention.
2. Find unique spots.
Living in a ‘tourist town’ means that there are many sights for us to see as photographers. It also means that everyone else is photographing the same thing. Lucky for us, Charleston is beautiful with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. To get started, you can always head to a popular area and then stray off of the beaten path a little. Turn left instead of right.
Is there an interesting staircase or wall?
A hidden alley or pathway?
A fun window box?
3. Photograph various angles.
I highly recommend moving around your subject to capture a variety of images. Exploring angles is a great practice because it can make or break an image, and it can add variety to some really great captures. A subject may not be as interesting when shot straight on. When you adjust and shoot from a 45-degree angle or from a different perspective, it could completely transform the outcome of the image. Let’s take a window box for example. You can shoot it straight on, at a 45-degree angle, and again at an angle that’s almost flush with the wall. Now you have 3 amazing images versus one.
4. Use natural light (and shadows) to your advantage.
Photography sessions in the middle of the day can be tough due to harsh sunlight. Whenever possible, using ‘golden hour’ light (the first hour after sunrise or the last hour before sunset) will add rich, vibrant tones to your images. Shooting during the middle of the day can also yield great results. In this scenario, you’ll want to utilize shade as much as possible. Harsh sunlight will wash out your subject, and it is next to impossible to recover images in post processing that have been blown out by the sun.
5. Know your camera’s settings.
Recommended exposure settings depend on the surrounding light.
When photographing in daylight and for general*photography purposes, it is likely that your settings will fall within the following ranges:
ISO: 100 — 400
Aperture: F 2.8 – F 8
Shutter Speed: 1/250 —1/2000
White Balance: set to daylight, cloudy, shade, or auto (play around with this to see what looks the best)
*Note: If you are working on landscape photography, sports photography, or another type of niche, you will want to adjust your settings according to the situation.
How will I know the exact settings to use?
With a light meter, you can get an accurate reading every time.
— Otherwise —
You can test various settings and rely on your judgment to gauge the best setting for the scenario.
You can place your camera setting on aperture priority so that it will automatically fill in the shutter speed for you. This helps take out some of the guesswork. I haven’t always used a light meter and previously did the majority of my work using the other techniques. I still have to fall back on these when I forget my light meter at home!
As long as the lighting is close to being correct, it doesn’t have to be perfect. You can always correct your exposure through post-production edits using Photoshop or Lightroom. Remember that images that are too bright or too dark will be nearly impossible to recover.
Light meter recommendation: Sekonic LightMaster Pro is what I use, and it really does a great job. It helps me to achieve accurately exposed images in the camera and reduces the amount of post processing that I do behind the scenes.
6. Flash or no flash?
I am a huge believer in using our natural light surroundings. You can find me utilizing natural light 90% of the time. With this being said, there are some situations where a flash really helps, and may even become necessary (time of day, location, etc.).
When using flash, it is important to properly diffuse the light so that you don’t wind up with harsh contrast between light and shadows on your subject. The goal with any added light source is to imitate the sun, as naturally as possible. I recommend always using an external speedlight versus your built in flash. There are also flash modifier attachments that you can use to diffuse and soften the light right on your camera.
I use a Nikon SB 700 along with the MagMod Professional Flash Kit to modify the light. MagMod attachments work with any type of external flash. They help to diffuse light and capture cleaner, more consistent photographs. I think of it as bringing a small soft box along, without having to lug a heavy lighting system around.
For Canon users, a Canon 430EX III-RT Flash would be comparable to the Nikon SB 700.
7. IPhone tips
A high quality image is bright, with even lighting and minimal shadows. Images should never be blurry. The resolution should also be high quality/clear, and free of ‘noise’.
Tip: you can adjust brightness while taking a photo with your iPhone by tapping the screen and sliding up or down after the sun icon appears.
If you’re taking photos on an iPhone, you can turn on gridlines in your camera by going to Settings > Camera > Gridand set it to the on position. When taking a photo, try to align your subject along the gridlines versus in the center of the frame. Your photos will become more interesting and will catch your viewer’s eye.
Now what are you waiting for? Get out there and shoot! I'd 💛 for you to come back and post your mid-day photos in the comments below.