When we travel, we always end up taking photos during the worst time of the day for photography… midday. Travelling with kids golden hour (sunrise & sunset) just isn’t the best time of the day to be exploring. And being that we travel a lot around beautiful SUNNY Australia, midday is a very difficult time of the day for photography. The bright sunlight creates lots of contrast, shadows and glare making it challenging to take photos.
However, because this midday is the time when we are out exploring I have had to learn the best ways to take photos on a sunny day. You definitely don’t need to be limited to golden hour in order to take incredible travel photos!
Camera Settings for Bright Sunlight Photography
To take incredible travel photos with bright sunlight you should be using manual settings. If you are shooting on auto your camera will often over compensate for the brightness by underexposing your photos. Alternatively, your camera might correctly expose the wrong part of your photo.
For example: The bright sky might be properly exposed but it will make the subject of your photo very underexposed.
You need to be smarter than your camera and tell it what to do.
Setting: ISO 100
When taking photos in bright sunlight you should always have your ISO set low, to ISO 100. Not only will this setting let the least amount of light in, but it will also reduce the amount of noise in the photo!
(it will depend on the amount of light & your shutter speed)
If you remember from my previous blog post on how to shoot in manual: the wider the aperture, the less the amount of light that will come into the photo. Therefore, you should be using a wider aperture when shooting on a sunny day to reduce the amount of light.
Using a wider aperture is also great for travel landscape photography to get the whole scene in focus.
Just note: if your subject is far away from your camera, you will need to make sure that they are in proper focus when using a wide aperture.
Setting: 1/160 (or faster)
When there is a lot of bright sunlight you will need to use a fast shutter speed for your photos. A fast shutter speed will let in less light, helping you to expose your image correctly.
Also, a fast shutter speed is always great when taking adventure travel photos! Especially when your subject is moving around a lot (like a restless toddler!)
Read More: 10 Tips for Adventure Photography with Kids
8 Tips for Taking Photos in Bright Sunlight
The biggest concern when taking photos in bright sunlight is the amount of contrast in your photo. Too much contrast in your photo will cause a loss of important detail in the highlights and shadows. These tips will help you avoid this.
- Find Shade
- Use Natural Reflectors
- Use the Light Meter
- Use a Filter
- Shoot from Further Away
- Shoot Into the Sun
- Embrace the Sunlight
This may seem obvious, but sometimes finding shade will mean that you need to get creative! By shooting in the shade you will reduce the amount of contrast on in your photo. Here are some ideas to help you find or create your own shade:
- Use a beach umbrella
- Find a wall, doorway or building
- Wait for cloud coverage
- Use vegetation (just make sure it doesn’t cause shadows!)
Use Natural Reflectors
Natural reflectors are a great way to even out the lighting when it is bright. If you get the right angle, you can reflect more light into the shadows of the image which will reduce the contrast in the photo. Some forms of nature reflectors include:
- Sand on the beach
- Glass on buildings
Just be careful of glare in your image when using natural reflectors.
One of the easiest things you can do when taking photos in bright sunlight is to move! When moving around you can play with directions and angles to find something that reduces the shadows and contrast on the image.
Use the Light Meter
Correctly exposing your photos is key to photography, especially when the lighting is harsh. Don’t forget to use your exposure meter to make sure all your settings are right and your image is exposed correctly.
Use a Filter
Using a filter is like putting sunnies on your camera. It reduces the reflections and intensity of colours in the photo, helping the camera to retain image details. Two filters that you want to look at using for bright sunlight are:
- Polarising Filter
- Neutral Density Filter
Shoot from Further Away
When taking travel photos on a sunny day you should shoot from further away. Shooting close up photos with bright sunlight will cause more obvious shadows on your subject.
Shoot into the Sun
Shooting into the sun can be extremely challenging, but when done right it can turn out incredible! This is a great way to get a softer look on your photos, despite the harsh lighting.
To shoot into the sun, turn your subject away from the fun so that their face is in the shadows. Not only does this remove the contrast on their face but will save them from squinting in the photo!
Shooting into the sun will cause the colours in the sky to be faded, the sky might even be a little blown out (over exposed). To help reduce this, try find something like a tree or building to fully or partially block the sun and disperse the light.
DISCLAIMER: I usually shoot away from the sun so that the sunlight is on my subject and lights up their face. While this way can be easier, shooting into the sun will produce a nicer photos.
Embrace the Sunlight
Finally, you should embrace the bright sunlight. Yes, it does cause harsh and difficult lighting. But it also brings out bright ocean blues and dramatic shadows. You can play around with the bright sunlight to capture unique shadows. For example: a hand shadow across your subjects face.
Editing Tips for Harsh Lighting
Shooting in full sun increases the contrast and makes the colours in your photos more extreme. I edit my photos using Lightroom, which allows you to alter the highlights and shadows as well as individual colours on the image. While I do first apply a preset, here are some of the settings to look at when editing photos taken in bright sunlight:
- Temperature Slider: cool down the image
- Tint Slider: increase the green tint
- Contrast: decrease by moving down
- Highlights: decrease by moving down
- Shadows: decrease by moving up
- HSL Sliders (individual colours)
- Yellow & Orange Saturation: decrease
- Increase Luminance on Yellow: for whiter skin & sand
- Decrease Luminance on Yellow: if skin is over exposed
- Saturation: decrease any overwhelming colours or whole image if necessary.
It is definitely possible to take incredible travel photos in bright sunlight. Even if the photos don’t turn out as soft and beautiful as ones taken at golden hour, you will still have captured your memories! At the end of the day, a little editing can help decrease the contrast and make the image look beautiful!