Taking Photographs in Harsh Light / Bright Sunshine

People often ask me why the photographs they take outside on a nice sunny day do not look as nice as they had hoped.  Most people assume that the sunnier the better when it comes to taking photographs outside.  However, this is far from the truth. 

Most of us want photographs that have warmth and depth in them.  The ideal time to take photographs outside, whether you are taking pictures of a landscape or a portrait, is actually late afternoon and around sunset.  Sunrise is perfect too but I doubt many of us are outside at sunrise taking photographs of our family!  The low sun gives a wonderful warm glow to the image and does not create harsh shadows and bright hotspots.

Taken close to sunset.  The low sun adds a warm glow to the photo

A common issue with portrait photographs taken outside is that they tend to look flat.  This is caused by having the sun right in front of the subject.  The light hits the entire face and causes the flat, blown out image.  Soft shadows will add depth to the image and can be easily achieved by rotating your friend/child/family member round so that the sun is not directly in front of them, at their ’12 o’clock’. 


By turning your subject's head away from the bright sun, you add a soft shadow to the face and create instant depth in the photo.

However, most of the time, we do not get a choice over when we need to take a picture.  If you’re in the park at midday and you want to take a photograph of your child, then what do you do?  Ideally in this situation, you want to find some shade, either next to a tree or the shadow cast by the side of a building.

If there are no obvious places you can use then you can still take great photos outside in the sunshine.  The tip is to get your subject between you and the sun.  Their face will be away from the sun and so there will be an even shadow across it and the sun behind, will act like a lovely back light and highlight the edges of the subject.  

Now....... all we need is for the sun to return! 

The Burj Khalifa at sunset

Shooting at sunrise or sunset is a must when taking photographs of buildings and landscapes.  The light in pictures taken at any other time is simply too harsh.