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  • Andrea MacLeod

5 Tips to Help You Take Better Photos in Bright Sunlight

It's a beautifully sunny day, you are outside with your friends and family, You want to capture the moment, so you pull out your camera or phone and start shooting. But when you look at the photos, the people in the photo are either too dark against a bright background or they are way too bright and you can't see their faces. Or you get them half in, half out of sun and shade and it's a mixture of both!

I have a few simple tips that will help you take better photos on those sunny days.

1. Get out of the sun.

Outdoor portrait, curvy, plus-size women
If you find some shade, the sun won't leave harsh shadows

On really sunny days, make some shade and take your photos there. If you have a light blanket that you are using for your picnic, put it above your subject and create a spot where the shadows aren't too heavy. You don't want to block all the light coming down, just enough to soften it. Now in spring can be good under trees, with the leaf cover enough to make complete shade, but not so much as to put you in the dark! I took this one of Gerrelle in Regent's Park London with a photography diffuser above her. They are easy to take around with you, but you do sometimes feel a bit silly stuffing it into tree branches!

2. Get out of the sun. Yes, again.

If you don't have anything appropriate to make light shade, then find what photographers like to call "open shade". Open shade means somewhere in the shade, but where your subject is facing towards the sunshine. That way the soft reflected light will light them, rather than the harsh direct light.

Maidenhead portrait photographer
Natural light portrait in open shade

In this photo, I have Jacqui by a fence that is shading her face, but the sunshine is pouring in where I'm standing to take the picture, so there is plenty of reflected light to light up the image. You can see how soft the shadows are from it. Another good place for taking this sort of photo is just inside a doorway of a building, but facing out towards the light.

3. Use your flash.

Another option is to use your flash to add more light to your subject's face. You have to be fairly close to them for this to work, they can't be on the other side of the street. I'd say generally no more than 2 or 3 large steps away.

Beautiful natural portraits.
Turn your subject away from the sun and use a fill flash to light your subject's face.

You can see the sunshine pouring in on Gerrelle's shoulder and the side of her face, but because I used the flash, her face isn't in dark shade, but instead beautifully lit up. I have a special flash and diffuser to use with my camera, but you don't need anything fancy, the pop-up flash on your camera or on your phone will still help make this work. Just force the flash to come on rather than letting the camera decide if it needs it or not!

4. Be patient and wait.

If you can take photos at any time of day, wait until the hour before sunset to take them. This is called the "golden hour" and photographers looooove taking photos at this time. The harsh bright light of midday becomes soft, warm and wonderful at this time of day. The long shadows help add interest and shape to the photo as well.

Child portrait photography Maidenhead
Use the beautiful light of golden hour for your photos

In this photo, you can see how despite the sun being behind this lovely young man, the light wraps around to light his face. The nice thing about this time of day is that you can actually even put your subjects facing the sun and they often won't have to squint, so you can get them fully lit with the warm light.

Or if you miss it in the evening, you can get the same golden hour in the first hour after the sun rises, so set your alarm early!

5. Take the photo anyway.

That's right, my last tip is to just take the photo and don't worry about the sun. If you are somewhere special, or you see something that you aren't likely to be able to recreate, snap the photo anyway.

Senior couple portrait photography
Capture the moment, don't worry about the light.

The lighting is far from perfect for this photo of my parents, but I'm still very pleased with it because it captured the emotion and spontaneity of the moment between my parents that I couldn't replicate if I had made them repeat it in better light. A special moment captured in a photo is always worth taking.


I hope you found these tips useful - let me know if you have any other ones you use! Or if you would like me to take photos of your entire family so it isn't always everyone but you in your now beautifully lit photos, get in touch to discuss doing a photo session with me.


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