3 Tips for taking pictures in the sun

Should the sun be behind the subject or should the sun be behind the photographer?

Where should the sun be when taking pictures?

Do you even think about light and where the sun is before you take a picture?

If you do, great! If you don’t, then I’m glad you’re here. This post is for you.

You heard me say few times that one of my goal is show you that having expensive gear doesn’t make you a better photographer.

Understanding light is the key to improving your photography skills.

If you don’t understand lighting, expensive equipment won’t help you.

Lighting should be the first thing you think about before you take a picture, so we should dig deeper.

Let’s begin with one of the most challenging lighting situations – taking pictures in the sun. I’m talking about bright midday sun. You can go hide under the shade, but I want to show you that you can use the sun to your advantage also.

Here are 3 tips for taking pictures in the bright sun. I think about these three things whenever I’m outside taking pictures, so I hope you find these tips helpful.

1) Avoid having the sunlight come directly from the side

digital-photography-tips

There are creative ways to make photos using this type of light but if you’re looking to get a flattering, clean portrait of people then sunlight directly hitting the side of your subject’s face creates harsh shadows, resulting in an unflattering portrait.

One side of the face is going to be bright and the other side is going to be in the shadow. Or the person closer to the sun will block the light and one person will be in harsh light and the other person will be in shadow. Not a good portrait.

Check out this photo I took of my son and wife. The lighting is terrible. The sunlight is hitting them from the side. Exactly what I’m saying to avoid;)

I knew the lighting wasn’t ideal but I was more concerned about the moment, so I took a picture anyway. If I were to move them into better lighting, the moment would have been gone. I break rules all the time:)

(Above Photo: Straight Out Of the Camera: Shot in Manual Mode with a Canon 5D Mark II camera, Canon 24-70mm 2.8 L lens, ISO: 100, Aperture: 5.6, Shutter Speed: 1/500)

2) Keep the sun behind you

where should the sun be when taking pictures

Embrace the sun! Keeping the sun behind you is a great way to show off the blue sky. However, keeping the sun behind you means the subject will be facing the sun. I don’t recommend doing this for portraits because when the sun is high up in the middle of the afternoon, because the person will squint or the sunlight creates dark shadows on the eyes. It works if you’re getting candid shots, action shots or taking a landscape photo. Remember to keep your subjects under this same lighting condition and your photo of will be evenly lit.

(Above Photo: Straight Out Of the Camera: Shot in Manual Mode with a Canon 5D Mark II camera, Canon 24-70mm 2.8 L lens, ISO: 100, Aperture: 5.6, Shutter Speed: 1/1250)

(Above Photo: Straight Out Of the Camera: Shot in Aperture Priority Mode with a Nikon D90 camera, Nikon 35mm 1.8 lens, ISO: 100, Aperture: 2.0, Shutter Speed: 1/4000)

And here are some examples from weddings I shot using this tip. By the way, I would like to clarify that the wedding photos I’m posting here were processed with Adobe Lightroom and are not straight out of the camera shots. However, I want to share them with you because sun was the only light source and I used the tips I’m sharing here.


(Disclaimer: Above wedding photos were processed with Adobe Lightroom and are not straight out of the camera shots. However, sun was the only light source and I used the tips I’m sharing here)

3) Keep the sun in front of you / behind the subject

where should the sun be when taking pictures

Also known as back-lighting. I love doing this and do it all the time. When the light hits the subject from behind it creates what’s called a rim light around the subject. It separates the subject from the background and it’s pleasing to the eyes. I love it. Here’s a example of a photo from a wedding using this tip. Do you see the rim light around the bride and groom’s head and down his neck?

(Disclaimer: Above wedding photo was processed with Adobe Lightroom and is not a straight out of the camera shot. However, I wanted to share with you because sun was the only light source and I used the tips I’m sharing here)

Do you see the rim light around my son’s head and along his right arm? That’s what you’re looking for.

(Above photo: Straight Out Of the Camera: Shot in Manual Mode with a Canon 5D Mark II camera, Canon 24-70mm 2.8 L lens, ISO: 100, Aperture: 4.0, Shutter Speed: 1/250)

Train your eyes to see this without a camera. Next time you’re walking outside in the sun look for rim light around people’s heads.

You can apply this tip whether it’s midday when the sun is high or during sunset. And whether you shoot in “Auto”, “P”, “Aperture Priority(A or AV)” or “Manual Mode(M)”.

When the sun is in front of you be sure to move around and place yourself in a position to avoid the sunlight shinning directly into your camera lens. It makes it difficult for the camera to auto focus and unless you’re in the right position it’ll also create a massive lens flare or overexpose the image.

Before you take your next picture, look around and see where the sun is. Move around and position yourself, or move the subject according to what type of look you want for your image.

Look at the subject before you bring the camera up to your face and see how the light is hitting the subject. You’ll see it if the shadows are too harsh on their faces. You’ll see a rim light if that’s what you wanted.

Are you thinking about light now? I hope so.

Go experiment and practice! Challenge yourself to shoot in the bright sun, instead of running to shade. It’ll help you understand light better.

Then, I want to hear about it. I want to know your successes and challenges you’re facing. Leave a comment to share your story, questions or post a link if you want to share some images. Have fun!



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29 Responses to 3 Tips for taking pictures in the sun

  1. Palmer Huang 12/15/2011 at 3:45 pm #

    What a great site you starting Peter! Thanks man I will be checking back often more your tips.

  2. David 12/15/2011 at 6:34 pm #

    Hey Peter! I just took Christmas card photos of my wife and I using your lighting tips. They turned out great! Thanks for the tips.

    • Peter Bang 12/16/2011 at 11:01 am #

      Nice! As soon as I saw it I was impressed by your use of rim light on the photo.

  3. elmira 12/15/2011 at 6:35 pm #

    Helpful tips Peter! Thank you:)

    • Peter Bang 12/16/2011 at 11:02 am #

      Thanks Elmira! Let me know if you’d like me to cover anything in particular. Love seeing your great pics on fb:)

      • elmira 12/21/2011 at 6:16 pm #

        Thanks! It means a lot coming from you! I appreciate of you could cover some post production techniques in Lightroom. Thank you again :)

  4. Peter Bang 12/16/2011 at 10:58 am #

    Appreciate it mate:)

  5. Victoria 12/19/2011 at 6:29 pm #

    Thank you for the tips! Can’t wait to try them out.

    Also, your son is ADORABLE!

    • Peter Bang 12/19/2011 at 11:18 pm #

      Thank you Victoria! Hope what I shared helps. It won’t solve all your problems but it’s a start. Would love to know how it goes and please let me know if you run into any problems.

  6. groovehouse 12/20/2011 at 1:22 pm #

    Excellent tips! Thanks for this article.

    • Peter Bang 12/20/2011 at 1:52 pm #

      Thank you for reading. Glad you find it helpful.

  7. Kevin R Eberle 12/20/2011 at 2:44 pm #

    Great tips explained well. Great work

  8. Angie 01/20/2012 at 11:24 pm #

    Great tips, I plan to try them out when the weather gets warmer where I live. Love your wedding shots! You have a beautiful family. Thanks for sharing these tips, can’t wait to try them out!

    • Peter Bang 01/21/2012 at 3:14 pm #

      Glad you find it helpful, Angie. Thank you for the kind words! Please let me know if you face any problems as you apply these tips.

  9. Charleen Larson 03/26/2012 at 11:46 pm #

    I’ve always had trouble taking photos with the sun behind the subject but I’ll try your tips and let you know how it goes.

    Very informative article, love all the photos. Thanks!

    • Peter Bang 03/27/2012 at 9:33 am #

      Glad you found it useful, Charleen. Would love to hear how it goes. Thank you!

  10. Lora 03/28/2012 at 8:54 pm #

    Peter, do you change your metering mode at all when the sun is behind the subject?
    Thanks,
    Lora

    • Peter Bang 03/29/2012 at 10:26 am #

      Hi Lora,
      I pretty much keep the metering mode at evaluative all the time, and it works fine. Spot metering will probably work better for backlit situations, but after shooting a lot in direct sun or backlit, I learned what the camera setting should be, so I don’t necessarily rely on the meter for that. But i should add that if you’re in aperture priority mode or manual mode, you’d want to look at the exposure bar and use the exposure compensation dial to overexpose a little so that the subject’s face isn’t dark and more accurately exposed when the sun is behind the subject. Did that make sense? Thanks for asking:)

      • Lora 03/29/2012 at 3:14 pm #

        Does that mean you shoot in program mode or do you use creative settings (since you mentioned aperture priority and manual modes?) Thanks so much for sharing your information. I love your work!!

        • Peter Bang 03/30/2012 at 10:29 am #

          I shoot in manual mode, and sometimes aperture priority mode. On my previous reply I was trying to also speak to some blog readers who might be shooting in program mode. Thank you for the kind words.
          I noticed you have a site and are a photographer as well. Nice work! How long have you been shooting?

          • Lora 03/30/2012 at 7:10 pm #

            Well, I ran a childrens portrait studio for 6 years in CA and developed quite a passion for working with kids and photography there. I’d taken photo courses in college (I did not major in photography) but what really draws me to it (besides the end result of the images I capture) is the relationship with the client. I live to meet other people! I’ve been in VA only 3 years so technically, I’ve been “on my own” for less than 3 years.
            I enjoy so much the ongoing learning aspect of photography… which ultimately keeps me very interested. Thank you for the compliment, however, I know I have a long way to go!
            What is your biggest challenge now as a successful photographer? I find pricing quite a challenge.

  11. lyn 02/06/2013 at 3:00 am #

    Thanks Peter, very informative along with your metering information

    • Peter Bang 02/06/2013 at 10:35 am #

      Thank you for reading Lyn. Glad you found them informative.

  12. Nicole 04/27/2013 at 2:01 pm #

    Hi-Thanks for your post! I am shooting a small outdoor wedding as a favor to a friend. I wasn’t nervous at first, but now I am!! In taking some practice shots of my kiddos, I’ve noticed the dreaded shadows on their faces. I will take a good look at the sun placement when I take the photos at the wedding, but do you have any suggestions on camera settings in direct sunlight? I have a Nikon D5100. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks :)

    • Peter Bang 04/29/2013 at 10:15 am #

      Hi Nicole! Thank you reading! That’s right, the first step is getting the light placement/direction correct. See how the light is hitting the subject without looking through the camera. As for settings in direct sunlight, first set your ISO to 100. Then your desired aperture, then use the dial to set shutter speed to set your exposure correctly. Practice is key. Have you shot the wedding this weekend or is it coming up?

  13. Kristina 10/13/2013 at 8:07 pm #

    I read this post, but I have to admit, I still struggle with the sun-behind-the-subject shots. Am I missing something here? Is my aperture not open enough? I feel like I have played and played with this to no avail.

    • Peter Bang 10/14/2013 at 11:45 am #

      Hi Kristina,
      What’s your specific struggle? What kind of results are you ending up with? Dark subject? And what mode are you shooting in? Auto, aperture priority or manual? One thing to remember is you have to expose for your subject. Meaning you want your subject to be properly exposed, lit and come out nicely. Not too dark and not too bright. When the sun is behind the subject the background is most likely brighter than your subject because the subject’s front side is in the opposite side of the sun. If you leave it up to your camera to set your exposure in this situation, it’ll likely properly expose the bright sky, leaving your subject dark not knowing you want your subject properly exposed.

      Try changing your metering mode to “spot metering”, and make sure you focus/meter on your subject’s face/skin. You don’t have to use spot metering mode(as I don’t), but it’ll give you a better idea or where you exposure settings need to be. If your subject is turning out dark, it means you need to bring in more light to your camera in order to properly expose your subject. That means dial up your “exposure compensation” until your subject is properly exposed, if you’re shooting in “aperture priority” mode. In “manual mode” you bring in more light by like you said, opening up your aperture more or slowing down your shutter speed or increasing your ISO.

      This answer was based on assuming your subject is coming out dark, but if that’s not the issue let me know.

      You can also refer to my posts on metering or exposure compensation.

      Thanks and hope that helps!

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