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The camera’s whole purpose is to capture light, but sometimes the natural sunlight in summer can ruin your photos. But with a few tricks, you can avoid ruining any shot in the sun.
Of course, you are going to take better photographs if you use a DSLR or mirrorless camera instead of your phone. That said, most of these tips are valid for smartphone shutterbugs too.
1. Basic Composition Matters the Most
No matter where the sun is, what the conditions are, and which camera you are using, composition is king in taking good photographs. If you mess up the composition of the photo, none of the tricks in this article will help you.
First, master at least one of these essential rules of photographic composition. Only then will any of the tips below help in enhancing your photos.
The Rule of Thirds is the easiest rule for beginners, so start with that. All the hacks in this article apply to the Rule of Thirds-style of composition.
2. Have the Sun Behind You
The first rule of taking good photographs in the summer is to adjust yourself so that the sun is behind you. If the sun comes in your frame, you’re going to get lens flare.
So move around, make sure your back is facing the sun, and then take a photograph. Apart from high noon when the sun is directly above you, you will be able to move a few paces and put it behind you.
3. For Portraits, Put the Sun Behind Them
The only time to forget the “put the sun behind you” rule is when you’re shooting a portrait of someone else. If the sun is behind you, that means it is beating down on them. This adds harsh light to their face, with strange shadows.
Instead, put the sun behind your subject, as photographer David Bergman explains in the above video. This creates even lighting on their face.
But how do you avoid the sun’s glare on your lens? You will need to angle the camera so that the sun is almost eclipsed by the person you are photographing. Angling away goes against one of the principles of taking great portrait group photos, but it will still look better than any other technique you try.
4. Use the Sun as a Rim Light
When you’re shooting portraits or any subject with the sun behind them, you’ll see the sunlight forming a natural outline on them. This is a rim lighting effect, and it’s excellent to separate subjects from backgrounds.
Rim lighting is a little difficult to master, but with practice, you’ll get it right. For beginners, almost every course suggests practicing rim light around a person’s hair.
The part to remember if you’re starting out is the mission of rim lighting. It’s all about separating the subject from the background. If the subject and the background are naturally two different colors and pop out separately anyway, you don’t need to try for rim lighting.
If you’re an intermediate or advanced photographer, Sean Tucker has an excellent post on using the sun as a rim light.
5. Shooting Portraits When the Sun Is on One Side
You might find yourself in a position where the sunlight is streaming in from the left or right, and you and the subject can’t change positions. What do you do then?
Digital Photography School has a cool cheat to still get great portraits. Ask the subject or model to turn so that the shoulder towards you is facing the light. Then ask them to turn their face 3/4 of the way towards that shoulder, so it’s naturally lit by sunlight.
6. Use the Sunny f/16 Rule
The Sunny f/16 Rule is one of the oldest rules in photography. It’s basically a simple way to remember the right manual settings for your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.
The idea is that when you’re shooting outdoors in direct sunlight, set your aperture to f/16. Don’t fiddle with the aperture at all from now on.
Then, you will only change the ISO and shutter speed to adjust for the right photo. In most cases, the best settings will be an ISO of 100 and shutter speed of 1/100.
Whenever you change the ISO, change the shutter speed accordingly. For example, if you set the ISO to 400, change the shutter speed to 1/400.
7. Shoot When the Sun Is Low
As far as possible, take photographs when the sun is low in the sky. It’s one of the easiest tricks to quickly improve your photos.
This means you will be shooting largely just after sunrise or just before sunset. That’s perfect because both these times are “golden hour” in photography schools. The natural light will be at its best, so you will get some gorgeous shots.
8. Shoot Silhouettes
In both golden hour settings, feel free to play around shooting photos as silhouettes. That means you won’t be putting the sun behind you. Instead, it will be right in your frame, but that’s good.
Silhouettes are an excellent way to capture moods, especially if you find silhouettes of people in action.
With a smartphone, there isn’t much you can do to capture perfect silhouettes. But make sure you turn off HDR in your camera app.
DSLR users can go a bit more in-depth. Apart from turning off HDR, point the lens towards the sky and press the Auto Exposure Lock button. Then bring the lens back down to take perfect silhouettes.
9. Bright to the Right
Apart from the Sunny f/16 Rule, here’s another trick we learned from tips to take amazing beach wedding photos. If you’re using a DSLR camera and don’t know how to set the histogram, remember this rule from TutsPlus: when it’s bright, shift to the right.
Basically, when it’s bright outside, shift the histogram so that the values are bunched up on the right. The idea is to make the image brighter than normal because your camera will compensate for the light otherwise.
10. It’s Okay to Use Flash
Smartphone users, this one isn’t for you. We’re talking about a DSLR camera with a proper speedlight here, not the little LEDs that sit next to a phone’s lens.
You might think it a sin to use a flash when there’s natural light available. But don’t be so adamant about that. The purpose of the flash here is to enhance the natural light, not to obscure it.
A well-timed, well-placed flash in natural light creates a “fill light” effect. It will ensure even lighting on your subjects and is especially useful for portraits.
If you’re using the fill light technique in times other than the golden hour, play with your speedlight’s settings. In most situations, you’ll want to put the flash at half intensity.
Which Time of Day Is Best?
Some people think natural light is all that matters to get a good photo. Even among Golden Hour enthusiasts, there are sunrise loyalists and sunset fanboys.
What’s your favorite time of the day to shoot photographs?
Image Credits: Roman Babakin/Shutterstock