Photography Tip - Shooting in Bright Sun

Most photographers, including myself, don't normally shoot under bright sun. The light is harsh and usually not very flattering for your subjects. Ideally, you want to use diffused light from a soft cloudy day or that magical early morning/early evening light. But sometimes you don't have a choice and you have to shoot in bright sun. You may be shooting an event that is outdoors. You don't have control over the time and you don't have control over the weather. So you have to make the best of it.  Think outside the box, think perspective and most of all think shadows. One great advantage about shooting under bright sun are the amazing shadows you can capture.

I took the following picture during a bright day at an old Western Town in Arizona. There were people walking around dressed in western period clothing posing for tourists. I noticed the shadows being cast on the dirt. They were fantastic. As I was looking down at the shadows, I saw a cowboy wearing knee high black boots pass by. They made an immediate impression on me. I asked the cowboy if he would pose for a couple pictures. He obliged and said yes. I asked him to turn around and told him I wanted to shoot him from behind. I got a few heckles and laughs from other cowboys. It was pretty funny. I sat on the ground, got very close to the cowboy (more laughs) and got out my wide-angle lens. I wanted the boots to be large in the frame with a strong shadow emerging out of the boots. The bright sun gave me exactly that. When shooting in bright sun, look for interesting shadows and show the connection of your subject to the shadow. The results can be striking. I shot this using my Nikon D2X, 12-24mm lens @ f/5, 1/320, 12 mm.

TIP: Think of the person, animal, object as a supporting actor. Your main character is the shadow.

Don't overlook shadows on walls. I took the following picture of my dog, Gracie. She loves to sit in the sun for a few minutes every day. The light is harsh, but the shadow is awesome and this portrait really defines her. I love how she is connected to her shadow and the contemplative look on her face. Don't overlook unguarded moments. They can be some of your most intimate portraits. I took this picture through my kitchen window. Gracie had no idea I was photographing her. Use shadows to tell your story, make it personal and keep it simple. I photographed Gracie using my Nikon D2x, 28-70mm lens @ f/10, 1/100, 48mm.

I took the following picture at a Renaissance Fair. It was a bright sunny day, so I had to make the best of it. I was photographing a group of dancers in period clothing. I loved their clothing, especially one of the female dancers. I noticed that every time she hopped, her skirt would fly up and expose these amazing bells attached to her shins. The flare and lift of her skirt looked so cool. The bright sun actually shined through her skirt and helped to illuminate the underside of her skirt. I knew I needed to photograph this from a very low angle to capture that and also shoot fast to freeze the skirt in mid air. I lay on the ground and started taking pictures of all the dancers as they passed by. And sure enough, she finally passed by, hopped and I got the picture. I took lots of pictures before I got the one I wanted, but it was worth the wait. Observe your subjects before photographing them. Look for interesting characteristics and ask yourself what you want to focus on or portray. Then take it one step further and think about perspective. Consider lying on the ground and looking up. It's a great way to photograph your subject. I shot this using my Nikon D2x, 12-24mm lens @ f/11, 1/320, 24 mm. 

Neat buildings and architecture are perfect candidates for showcasing great shadows. I took this shot under a patio cover in Tucson, AZ.  Bright sunny days in Arizona are a common occurrence all year round. The sky was a brilliant blue with patches of clouds here and there. I looked up and saw an amazing display of lines, light and shadows. The contrast of the bright blue sky against the architecture was beautiful.  I thought it would look great to fill the frame with the slats of the patio cover and showcase the geometric pattern and interplay of light and shadows. Interesting shadows are not always on the ground or against a wall. Don't forget to look up. I shot this using my Nikon D2x, 12-24mm lens @ f/13, 1/200, 12mm. 

TIP:  Use bright sunny days to find interesting shadows. Look up, down on the ground, against walls .... every where. Bright light is not always bad, even when photographing people. Find an interesting focal point, think about perspective, tell a story, be creative with light and seize the moment!