Photo Tip :: Shooting in Direct Sunlight

Lighting is really difficult in photography. I'm not someone who personally uses a lot (or really any) flash or exterior lighting in my photos - both due to personal preference and because most of my situations do not call for it. I feel like natural light can be a tricky thing to deal with, but also can give you the most amazing light source if you play with it well. What's even harder is when you don't have time to wait for golden hour (aka the first and last hour of sunlight with great lighting) and you have a great place to take photos, but harsh lighting. Here are my suggestions on how to deal.

Dots on Dots
Backlit, small lens flare. Works because the building behind me is blocking some of the sun out.

...let the wookie win
Backlit (kinda from the side though) and not working for me. I'm too dark and in really harsh shadows. 

Backlight with Caution
Backlighting can be AMAZING or downright awful. Be careful! Having the subject in front of a very lit area when they are slightly shaded usually turns out worse. You'll also need to check the exposure as often, it will darken your subject or blow out background.

it was a long day

'Open' Shade
One of the keys to really great direct sunlight is finding shady areas that still allow for a lot of light. Parks and yards can have a lot of this - under a large tree or area of trees usually have a lot of this 'open' shade I'm talking about. This would also be under an umbrella outside, an overhang, or somewhere else blocking the direct rays. Basically, think about the lighting you get standing in a tropical forest, like the photo of Jason above in Hawaii. This will give you less shadows and distribute the light more evenly.

we headed for the skies Get Really Close, Okay?
It's time for your close up! Detail shots can work really well close up because you/your camera are covering up some of the light!

China Pavillion Stand Against a Building
Let the building block some light as you and act as a reflector! Perhaps it can provide you some open shade too :D

Birds Not of a Feather Use a High Shutter Speed
I like to use the highest shutter speed and lowest aperture to try and freeze any movement, like fountains or jumping.

Abandoned Mine Fire Take It All In
Alternately, using a high aperture can also have a great effect when you really want to capture the background in daylight. Here, I was able to let the sunlight capture all the detail on a much higher aperture than I ever set my camera at. If you are shooting with a landscape and no shade, this is definitely the way to go.

Play with Shadows
If you have interesting patterns with your shadows, embrace it! Look for fun patterns in the shadows and see what you can come up with. Railings and trees are wonderful for this.

At the castle
Just Do It
Disney photos are often blown out for me.  I've got some harsh shadows a lot because it's open sun in Florida. Take your photos on a high shutter speed and make sure to focus on your subject. Then rely on editing to take care of some of it for you. Here are some little editing tips for direct sunlight.

-Take down the highlights/whites.
-Take the shadows up.
-Adjust your exposure.
-Play with curves and levels.


  1. Thanks for the tips! It will be really helpful for many people especially when taking outdoor pictures.

  2. I hate shooting in direct sunlight :( Thanks for the tips, specially the last one! I usually like boosting my whites/ highlights... but I guess in this case that is a no no

    Mili from call me, Maeby

  3. This is an absolutely amazing tutorial. Thank you!

  4. these are wonderful tips, thanks Katherine! I struggle w/ this a lot actually because it is almost always way too sunny and I generally rely on a quick moment on weekends to take shots, not an ideal time. i have that problem w/ shadows a lot but I like your idea of playing w/ them a bit... and now i totally see why my one decent pic recently in direct sunlight turned out well, the super close-up : ).
    Cuddly Cacti
    Mitla Moda

  5. Such usefull tips! Thanks for sharing! Love taking photos in sunlight. It gives photos such a warm glow =)

  6. I usually take my photos during the day (okay, like I ALWAYS do hahaha) and so I definitely use that... I've been trying to find more places with open shadows, and it's been surprisingly difficult! But I've got a few under my belt right now. :D

  7. Great tips! Lots of my photos come out too dark due to poor lighting. These tips really help!

  8. This was SO helpful. I always seem to have super harsh light when I shoot outfit photos and I'm so impatient that I'm usually like "whatever, I'll just take them regardless!" and they end up looking TERRIBLE. The tip about aperture and taking in the background is a really good one - I never thought of it before!

  9. Yay! More photo tips, these are always so useful. You have the skillz.

  10. Oh... Star Wars dress!!!! Amazing!!

  11. Thanks fore this Katherine. I will definitely pin it as I am so behind on learning how to take photos with my camera! -Jess L

  12. This may seem weird but where is that picture with the graffiti road? We have a place like that close to wear I live that is eeerily similar and I'm thinking it's the same place. Centralia?


Thank you for visiting and reading this post! We're excited to read your comment - and even if we aren't always able to get back to you, we read these together. Definitely feel free to hit us up on Twitter also - @kmuchadoo or @jamcadoo