How to Shoot in Direct Sunlight

Because you can't reschedule a wedding as the photographer.

If you have the joy of being your own boss, you should be able to shoot when you want and where you want, right? But when Kaitlin of Kaitlin Noel Photography started shooting more weddings, she realized she had to confront her fear of shooting in direct light.

“…portrait sessions were notoriously scheduled to take place in the “perfect” light. If I wasn't a fan of the light, I would simply reschedule the shoot for a “better day/time.” This was the dream. The good life.”

Kaitlin Noel Photography_0787 . How to shoot in natural sunlight

 Because you can't control every detail, especially the sunlight.

But on wedding day, there is only one boss: the bride. Okay, two: Mother Nature, but still not you.

You have absolutely NO Control of those two bosses. The luxury of changing the date based on direct or indirect sunlight is nothing but a photographer's fantasy. The wedding day is happening no matter the weather. And we all know someone who has shot a wedding in a hurricane, dust storm, or snow storm, so there is no time to cry: “but I am a natural light photographer!”

Kaitlin's first wedding gig was a rude introduction to the harshness of the sun. While Kaitlin did not spiral into a fit of fear, she did face those fears head on:

“The portraits were moved to before 3pm, outside, without shade, and I NEEDED to be able to shoot… Shooting in full sun was a HUGE fear for me, as I know it can be for many of my peers. It's certainly not ideal, but it is a situation we all need to be able to handle.”

alexa ss (29 of 55)Easy tips and tricks for successfully shooting in direct sunlight.

A lot of my photography mentors recommended the following tips and tricks to counteract shooting in the bright sunlight:

  1. Fill Flash
  2. Use of a Natural or Studio Reflector
  3. Find a tree/shade source

The real secret “how to” of shooting in direct sunlight

Alternately titled: Stick that sun in the back and shoot from the hip.

“…when shooting with the sun directly behind them, you NEED to shoot through something…leafy branches, etc. You also want to have more of a textured background (building, fences, etc) so that it is not all blank white skies. Also, be sure that you over expose just a bit as you meter for their faces and fill in with the shadows slider in Lightroom. After a bit of editing magic, you will find that you have a perfectly exposed image. “

Even when shooting in direct sunlight, you can have both the background and clients' faces in a flattering and even light.

how to shoot in natural sunlight

“This image was taken at 1pm on the busy streets of Philadelphia. We had the sun placed behind them and I switched my angle to the side to get the pretty back light, add the texture of the brick wall/tree, and used the tree branched to help filter the light. You could clearly see how bright it was by looking at the highlights. Okay, cobblestone road.”


View More: . how to shoot in full sun

2pm in Philly, and having to shoot a huge bridal party in full sun. We found a small area where there was enough shade. The area was large enough for them to stand in a small semi-circle formation. This patch of shade on the grass had the full sun hit them in front and behind. Then, I stood in the next patch of full shade created by the stump of the tree. Again, it also helps to be as short as I am in these situations.”

Shedding some extra light on the subject…

Though this subject can be talked about for many more pages and each and every photographer has their own shooting style and use of light, I think most would agree that BACKLIGHT is the best way to handle direct sun, as long as you can provide a way to add fill flash, use natural reflectors, shoot through filters, or find any patch of shade to pose in and shoot from.

As a photographer that shoots a lot of beach weddings in Cape May, NJ, I am usually not given most of those luxuries.  I am able to use sand as a natural reflector, though.  I often pose the groom with his back to the full sun, his bride standing in front of him, while I shoot from the side, as the first image in this blog post shows..

Do you have any other tips that you have found work for you? Different shooting styles? Any tips and tricks you are willing to share? We are always up for more inspiration and seeing how others approach shooting in various conditions. Feel free to comment below and let us hear what you think!

 All photos courtesy of Kaitlin Noel Photography.

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     Watch the Free webinar