3 Tricks to Taking Stunning Pictures in Direct Sunlight

I love pictures of people squinting from the sun blaring right in their eyes.

Said no one. Ever.

Even the most perfect lighting conditions can be tricky if you don’t know what you’re doing.  But taking pictures in the full sun can be daunting. Even for a seasoned professional. Believe me. I’ve spent a lot of times taking crappy photos until I finally figured out these 3 simple tricks.

Before we begin are you asking yourself, why would anyone even take pictures in the full sun? And why not just always wait for ideal lighting conditions like open shade, the golden hour, and overcast skies?

There can be many reasons but the one that always finds me in full sun is the fact that I want to capture a moment/subject/location and it just plain doesn’t cater to ideal lighting conditions.

Exhibit A: Texas Bluebonnet season.

Our family lived in the great state of Texas for 6 years and I looked forward to Bluebonnet season every year!

The flowers are all over the place. It seems that each year when the bluebonnets blossom everyone is striving to get those perfect pictures in them. I’m not one to pass up a good photo opp so I hopped on the bluebonnet train.

This particular year the location I picked was apparently spotted by MANY other photographers because when we pulled up there were already at least 2 dozen people in the fields taking pictures. Because I wasn’t willing to go trekking around to find another good location I rolled up my sleeves and joined the crowd.

We started taking pictures a few hours before sunset when the sun can be pretty brutal, especially in a wide open field. Plus because there were so many people around, I was going to have to use some tricks up my sleeve to capture a good picture without having everyone in my background.

Here’s a visual of what we were working with…

On to the 3 Tricks to Taking Pictures in the open sun…

1|  Use Back Lighting

When you are battling the sun it’s never a good idea to place your subject facing the sun because then you are just going to get them squinting. Not to mention the lighting on their face will be way too harsh. So to combat this, simply turn their backs toward the sun and use back lighting.

(Back lighting is when you meter your exposure off of the subject thus blowing out the background.)

If the sun is still high in the sky, you can still position your subject with their back toward the sun. Just watch for their shadows to be behind them.

2| Get Creative With How You Position Your Subject

In the two photos below you can see that instead of getting close-ups of my subject I shot them at a distance with the sun to their side. That way the focus is on the entire scene and not on fact that half of their faces and bodies are slightly over exposed with harsh shadows.

Also notice in the right picture  that my focus is on the flowers and not even on the subjects who are blurred in the background.

Think about using different angles and ideas to capture the moment and what is happening.

3| Use Yourself as a Sunshade

I know of many photographers who bring along assistants to hold shades and reflectors in order to achieve a better photo.  I’m a less-is-more sort of gal who doesn’t have time to coordinate with an assistant. I also don’t like to bring along any extra gear so instead, I use myself as a shade.

In the pictures below I am having my subjects face the sun and stand in my shadow so the sun isn’t directly shining on them. It works nicely to give that even lighting.


There you go! As you can see you can still achieve great pictures, even in the full sun, you just have to have a few tricks up your sleeve!

Once the sun finally went down, we were able to get a few of those classic bluebonnet shots…



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