Use Shade To Improve Your Photography

Summer is a great time to take photos.  There are plenty of sunny days without a cloud in the sky, and you would think midday is a great time to take pictures. Actually, it's not, it's the worse time of day or more accurately, the worse kind of "light" for photography. Photography is ultimately about capturing moments, so I'm not saying don't take photos in the midday sun.  To be honest, sometimes you just have to take shot as is. The purpose for this blog post, is to share some tips on how to take "better" photographs on a bright sunny day.


Bad Light

There are several issues with taking photos in midday sun, you have a lot of contrast, blown highlights, hard shadows, washed out or dull images and generally unflattering light. If you are photographing people they tend to squint and have unflattering shadows. Let's look at an example. The picture to the right is Jason. I met him at Klyde Warren Park and thought he had a interesting look, so I asked of I could take his portrait. This image is unedited, you can see it was a sunny day around noon. Notice the harsh unflattering shadows on his face. The bright sun is causing excessive contrast as well. Because the sun is straight over head, it caused the shadows around his eyes, this is know as "raccoon eyes." The overall tone is sort of dull and not vibrant. This was not a flattering picture of Jason and even with a lot of editing, only so much can be done to improve it.

Find Some Shade


My first tip is to find some shade. Look for a tree, building, or structure, just something that blocks the direct sunlight. One thing to remember, shade is not the absence of light, it's diffused light that is bounced into the shaded area by the objects around your subject, like the side walk or building across the street. This picture of Ronnie, was taken at the same time of day at the same park as the picture of Jason above. In this instance, I asked Ronnie to stand under a near by tree. The shade from the tree diffused (soften) the light, making it even across Ronnie's face. No harsh shadows or contrast or squinting raccoon eyes. As you can see this is a much better photo as compared to Jason (sorry Jason).


In this next image, I was in Deep Ellum when I met Erica. Once again it was  a bright sunny day. I asked Erica to stand in the shade next to a building. In this example, Erica and the background are in the shade. In the picture above, Ronnie was in the shade, but the back ground (the park) was in the sunlight. Be mindful of the background, whether it's in the shade or not. Depending on what your photographing, it's best if the foreground subject and the background are in the shade, that way you have a even exposure across the entire image.  I like the image of Ronnie with the park out of focus in the background, it gives it a sense of location.

Turn Away


What do you do, if you can't find any shade? Tip #2, turn your subject "away" from the sun. This will prevent those harsh shadow around the eyes, squinting and high contrast. This may cause the sky or background to blow out, but at least your subject will look better, which the most important anyway. You can add some wrap around light, but just slightly turning your subject back toward the sun, but be careful not to create hot-spots on their face. For you more advanced photographers, you can use a reflector to add some light back toward your subject, our use some fill flash. In this image of Tenielle at Klyde Warren Park, the sun is to her back, so once again, there's no harsh shadows or contrast. There's a bit of a hot spot on her forehead but not overpowering. The sun to her back added what's called "rim light." Rim light is when your subject is lit around the edges. You can see the rim light on her hair and shoulders. Some of the highlights in the background are slightly blowout, but how cares, look at that smile. On thing that could have improved this image would have been to add some light on Tenielle. I could have used my popup flash or a hand held reflector. When I post processed this image, I brought down the highlights and brightened the shadows to even out the exposure.

Just Take The Shot


So Fitz, I can't find any shade and the sun is above us so we can't turn away from the sun, what do I do? Take the shot and enjoy the moment. You can take a "technically" bad photo and still enjoy it. See this image of Amber to the right, this is "technically" a horrible image. When I took this picture of Amber, I forget to change my camera settings from the previous day, this caused all the highlights to be completely blown out. The entire image was over exposed, I was so mad I messed this up. In the end, I like this photo. You know why? Her expression and the necklace she's wearing. Those elements speak louder than the technical problems. That's what I mean about capturing moments. When in doubt, forget the technical stuff and JUST TAKE THE SHOT.