5 Tips For Shooting On Bright Sunny Days :: Digital Photo Secrets

5 Tips For Shooting On Bright Sunny Days

by David Peterson 5 comments

On a bright day, the sun is both your best friend and worst enemy. It can provide a lot of light if you're facing the right side, but it can also make many of your photos look unevenly lit or sometimes completely dark. Believe it or not, there are several things to consider when taking pictures in perfect weather. If you get them right, the sun will always be your friend. You’ll never have to worry about what you’ll do with a perfectly sunny day.

Be careful of overexposure

You put sunscreen on because you know exposed skin burns under the midday sun. It's a similar situation for your camera. During the summer months, the sun can be extremely bright, especially at noon. This means you will have to protect your shots from being overexposed by increasing the shutter speed or decreasing the aperture. Both changes reduce the amount of light coming throughout the lens.

Don't be surprised if you have to increase your shutter speed up to 1/1000s or even 1/1500s to get the shot you want. This can be perfectly normal in the middle of a very bright day.

Try to avoid noon

Many subjects look their best when light is shining on them from the sides. That's why sunrise and sunset are the best times to take any photo. In the middle of the day, the sun shines directly overhead and can sometimes cast strong shadows on your subject (usually the face). That's why it's sometimes best to wait an hour or two for the sun to move just slightly across the horizon so you can get a more sideways kind of lighting.

This isn’t always necessary. If you’re already out and about, don’t let the sun stop you from rattling off a few shots. Try out the next tip to make the best of an otherwise less-than-ideal situation.

Use a fill flash

The midday sun is harsh. It not only illuminates subjects very strongly, it can also create some very dark shadows. If your friend is wearing a hat or is facing away from the sun, you will definitely want to use a fill flash to light up some of the darker spots. In most cases, your built in flash will do. You simply need to change the settings to fill flash mode so you don’t use too much flash when only a small amount is needed.

Using a flash in the middle of the day may seem very strange and unintuitive. There is a lot of light, after all, so why would you need a flash? Here is why. It has to do with the presence of uneven lighting. Because the sun is so bright, the camera adjusts the shutter speed so none of your image is too bright. That means the shaded areas will appear even less lit than the illuminated areas. To compensate for the darkness, you have to throw some extra light on the darker areas, evening them out with the rest of the photo. Your friends will give you some weird looks for doing this, but it is completely necessary.

How to enable fill flash mode

If you have a point-and-shoot camera, take some time to read through your manual to find out which icon corresponds to fill flash. Those with SLR models can usually just tap on the little lightning icon once to get the flash to popup. After that, you will have to press it another time so you can adjust the flash settings. On most digital SLR models, you will be able to use the same dial you use to change your shutter speed and aperture to change the amount of flash coming from the popup flash. If this doesn’t work, consult your camera manual.

Use a diffuser

A lot of photographers I know do this when there is too much harsh and direct light on their subjects. They either bring a professional diffuser setup with them, or they create one with some simple materials anyone can get from Walmart. You can build a wooden frame with a sheet stretched out across it, or you can try running some diffusing fabric across a wire hoop. Most of these jury-rigged contraptions won’t cost you all that much to build, and they can make all the difference when it comes to dealing with the sun on those bright summer days.

Shoot landscapes and wildlife

Sunny days are perfect for landscape and wildlife photography because the closed aperture and very fast shutter speeds you use will prevent the photo from being overexposed. Go out and find an open field, setup an angle that gives the scene a sense of scale, and take the picture at an aperture of F22 or higher. Make sure you use your camera's onboard light meter to help you select the appropriate shutter speed, and don't forget the tripod.

You should also take advantage of the extra bright light when taking wildlife photos. Near the middle of the day, you can increase your shutter speed to as much as 1/1000s or 1/1500s to capture some very quick movements that would otherwise be blurred.

Instead of getting bored with these summer sunny days, consider them your Safari.

With these five tips, you should easily be able to make the most of a perfectly sunny day. Just remember to be extra careful about overexposure and always use a fill flash whenever you see shadows on your subject. The rest is as easy as a walk in the park.

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  1. Shaddai Empress says:

    Wonderful guidelines

  2. Ciska says:

    Hi, thanks so much for your explanations. It's helped me a lot. I'm still a little bit confused on the f16 ISO 100 rule in sunlight. I tested this today and found my pictures on f16 ISO 100 1/100 to be very dark. When changed to f11 ISO 800 1/800 it was much better. What am I doing wrong, the sunny f16 rule is supposed to be great?

    • David Peterson says:

      Hi Ciska,

      Without knowing the exact lighting, it's hard to tell what went wrong for you. I'm guessing that it wasn't a completely sunny day. Maybe it was a little cloudy, or the sun was low in the sky

      The 'sunny 16' rule means on a full sun day you can use f/16, ISO 100 and 1/100 sec shutter speed to correctly expose an image on a sunny day. You can also use f/16, ISO 800, 1/800 sec as the 'sunny 16' rule means you use a shutter speed the inverse of the ISO.

      When you changed the aperture to f/11, you let more light into the camera which is why your image wasn't dark anymore.

      I wouldn't worry about it too much. These rules are meant to be more guidelines so you'll need to change the settings manually.

      For more help on the Sunny 16 rule. check here: http://www.digital-photo-secrets.com/tip/1565/the-sunny-16-rule/


  3. dale mann says:

    If the subject is in shade but the background is very sunny, how would you adjust the exposure compensation in order to get the correct exposure for the subject

  4. Dev says:

    Wonderful tips!! Thanx for sharing!!

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.