How to Get Stunning Photos While Shooting In Direct Sunlight
Updated: Mar 24
1. Look for some shade.
If you can find some shade, this is your best option. You can find some trees, a building, the shadow of a large fence, or even another person's shadow. Whatever you're using, though, make sure there aren't "hot spots" coming through your shadow source and creating light spots on your subject.
Notice how there are some light spots coming through the trees, but I've placed the sun behind them so those spots don't show up on their faces.
2. Put your subject's back at an off-angle to the sun
When you’re trying to soften your subjects’ skin, you don’t want harsh sunlight to directly hit your subjects’ faces. So put their backs at an angle to the sun so that their faces are completely shaded.
You will get a rim light of blown-out highlights around their heads and bodies, so minimize the amount of blown highlights that you show in your frame.
Notice the shadows in this photo. They are angled, which means the sun is off to the side and behind them. You can see the rim-light in the hair of the family, which we are always looking for.
3. Spot Meter to get proper exposure.
Use spot metering to properly expose your subject. This will often times over-expose the background, but it's better to focus on your subject and have a bright sky behind your images. Here's a great article on metering.
Use the shadows to create something interesting in your photos. I've metered for her face here, which is why the shadows are so dark. Make your main subject the priorty of exposure, and the rest will fall into place.
4. Embrace the Sun.
I love to use the harsh sunlight to capture some bright, colorful images for my clients. This is such a fun time to use your creativity and create something a little different. For family sessions, I love to have the family face the sunlight and just walk together holding hands, or snuggle in close and look at each other. This way, they don't have to look directly into the sun, and you won't get those squinty eye photos, either.
The best way to do this is to just try. Take a friend or family member out just for fun and try it. You might be surprised at how much you like it.
I have mom looking at her daughter here so she doesn't have to look directly into the sun. I like to save this light for photos of the family walking or looking at each other.