Tips for taking photos in direct sunlight

November 3, 2015

Take outstanding photographs in any sunlight condition

Many a perplexed photographer has tried to figure out how to take high-quality photographs in direct sunlight. When capturing memorable images, sunlight can either be your best friend or your worst enemy.

Some of the most beautiful photographs are created as the sun skims along the horizon at dawn or dusk. In difficult moments, a more flattering type of light often helps the photographer, so here are some tips to help you achieve photography success.

Tips for taking photos in direct sunlight

Challenge of direct sunlight

Sunlight at high-noon may create a daunting challenge. Many photos of otherwise happy tourists have been hurt by the dark shadows that direct sunlight can cause. Since it's not always possible for everyone to reconvene for ideal lighting, it's important to know how to cope with direct sunlight.

When the sun is high overhead, light may not reach the recessed areas around the eyes. Sometimes, they may completely disappear into the shadows. When that occurs, your best bet is to use fill-in-flash.

Fill-in flash

One great technique is to turn your subjects away from the sun, and then use the camera's flash to light up their faces. This is favoured by many photo pros because it also eliminates the problem of squinting. Fill-in flash, as it is called, will show off those bright smiles and sparkling eyes. At the same time, the sunlight coming from above and behind your subjects will often highlight hair and shoulders in a desirable way.

Keep in mind that the power of an on-camera flash may only be sufficient from 3 to 4.5 metres away. A digital camera allows a photographer to preview the results on the LCD screen and to confirm the flash is strong enough to balance with the bright sunlight.

Filtered sunlight

Not all sunlight is the same. Many landscape and portrait photographers actually like sunlight filtered by a slight overcast. Since these conditions reduce the contrast between the highlights and shadows, better photos are often the result.


It's also possible to shoot in the direction of the sun, without flash, to intentionally create silhouettes. When the sun is close to the horizon, the potential for dramatic silhouettes runs high. The ability to watch for interesting silhouettes quickly enhances a photographer's repertoire.

Sunrise and sunset

When sunlight near dawn or dusk is properly used, a sculpted, three-dimensional look will give your images depth and beauty. Portrait photographers often deliberately schedule outdoor sessions near sunset in order to make such light work for them.

On a sunny day, in the moments just before sunset, the sun's rays weaken enough to eliminate the squinting problem. In fact, the light hits the subjects' eyes at an angle that creates beautiful reflection highlights. This is often referred to as "the golden hour."


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