Ask David: What camera settings should I use on a sunny day? :: Digital Photo Secrets

Ask David: What camera settings should I use on a sunny day?

by David Peterson 8 comments

When you are photographing during the sunniest part of the day you are combating two major issues: The first is overexposure and the second is harsh shadows.

First, let's tackle overexposure. Overexposure occurs when too much light gets into your camera and washes out your photo. To combat overexposure, it’s best to shoot in full manual mode because it will give you the most control. As you adjust each setting, keep an eye on your light meter. It’s going to give you a ballpark as you change your settings and will be your first indication if your shot is going be overexposed.

Start with a low ISO, preferably ISO 100. It is usually the lowest you can manually set your DSLR too although some DSLRs have the option to set the ISO to 50. Your ISO controls how sensitive the camera’s internal sensor is to light: The lower the number the less sensitive it is to light.

Use a small aperture. Your aperture controls a mechanism inside your lens that opens and closes to alter depth of focus, it will also alter the amount of light reaching the sensor. Small apertures are denoted by higher numbers like f/11 and f/16. That smaller opening allows less light into your camera. When you use small apertures (high f numbers) you increase the amount of your photograph that will be in focus. If your heart desires a photograph with a blurry background and/or foreground, you’ll need to use a wider aperture (smaller f-number) and decrease your shutter speed.

Increase your shutter speed. The shutter speed controls how quickly your shutter opens and closes. As you increase your shutter speed, the amount of time light has to get in also increases. On sunny days too much light is your enemy. It’s not uncommon for me to have my shutter speed at 1/2500th of a second or higher in really sunny situations. If you are shooting with a large aperture (denoted by a small number like f/2.8) you are going to have to use a high shutter speed. Note; If you are trying to create photographs that depict motion blur, you’ll have to drop the shutter speed and use a smaller aperture.

When you are shooting, watch for reflective surfaces; water, white walls, mirrors and windows. Reflective surfaces will bounce more light into your camera increasing the risk of overexposure. To offset that extra light increase your shutter speed and use a smaller aperture.

In bright light shadows can cause problems when you are photographing people. Harsh light can create shadows around the eyes and under the nose. If you are photographing people look for shade or make your own by holding something above your subject. If you don’t have that option you can face people away from the direction the light is coming from and use a flash to compensate for a background that’s brighter than the subject.

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  1. Jerry Hallead says:

    Useful and helpful. Simple basics, revisited. Always good to have a reminder. Thanks!

  2. Katherine Ng says:

    Quoted below is your advice.

    "As you adjust each setting, keep an eye on your light meter. Its going to give you a ballpark as you change your settings and will be your first indication if your shot is going be overexposed."

    I would appreciate if you could explain to me what is a ballpark.

    Thanks and regards,

    • David Peterson says:


      Sorry, I thought most people knew that slang. Ballpark means 'in the approximate area'. So your light meter will be able to tell you if you're close to getting a correctly exposed image when it's close to the '0' mark.


  3. Robert says:

    Bright sunny days are a problem. I've been dilly dallying around with shutter priority using what I thought was good shutter speeds. Going manual and using high shutter, iso and aperture adjustments sounds great. Thanks.

  4. Jim Adams says:

    Keepin' it simple, thank you!

  5. Franca Okafor says:

    Just straight to the point.....certainly helpful, thanks!

  6. Nicolas says:

    I was just looking for help in shooting on a bright day: Today.
    What a relief to find an artical that covered just that. To the point, simple, yet covered all platforms of my inquiry.

    Thanks so much. Will pass this along and continue visiting.

  7. Marg says:

    David.. Reading your articles lately has finally made sense of some of the things I have been struggling. Your plain language & using relationship explanation is wonderful. I will be staying very close to your page & will certainly tell my friends at camera club who are newbe's like me!

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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+.