Shooting in Direct Sun Tips and Tricks Above photos edited with the Photoshop (and Elements) actions from the Luminosity Collection, Picture Perfect Mega Set and the Grace Collection.

Taking photos in direct sunlight can be a daunting task for many photographers. Sometimes it just can’t be avoided, especially when documenting life as it happens, so it’s best to have a few tricks up your sleeve to make the best of the sunshine when you have to shoot in it.

Honestly, my first advice for taking photos in direct, overhead sunlight is to avoid it if at all possible. Or if you don’t have another option, try to find ways to manipulate it. Direct sunlight can cause harsh shadows (with intense lines across faces, raccoon eyes, and harsh, unforgiving details), blown out highlights, etc. However, sometimes it just can’t be avoided and I’m happy to share with you some helpful tips to make the most out of those sunny days!

1. Spot meter for proper exposure.
Use spot meter mode and expose for the subject’s face. Depending on your position and the light, this could leave your background overexposed – but better to blow out the background than your subject. Manual settings and spot metering are a must in these conditions so your camera doesn’t try and guess what you want exposed well in a very bright setting.

2. Re-position a lot and shoot from all different angles.
Position yourself or your subject so that the sun is not directly falling on their face. For my candid beach shots, I walk around my subject until I find the best light. Try shooting low, high, from different angles … with bright sun just a slight repositioning can dramatically change the way the light affects your image and subject.

Photoshop Actions for Photographing in Bright Sun

In the following images of my little ragamuffin, notice how we go from incredibly harsh, squinty eyed full sun – to side lit in direct, overhead sun that causes blown out hot spots on the side of her face and nose – to a much nicer backlit image (but the sun is still too high and strong to create that dreamy, soft backlighting I love) – to finally an image in open shade that is evenly lit with pretty details, lovely skin tones and no squinty eyes (that’s just her smile, lol). These four images were taken in the exact same spot, each just rotating the subject in relation to the sun … for the open shade shot I had her step about ten feet back into the shade of a large tree (she was still facing the sun as in the first image, but at the edge of open shade). You also can’t see the details enough here, but the details in the open shade image are tack sharp right down to her smallest eyelash. The details in backlit images can get hazy and not as crisp sometimes (a reflector can help). And the front and side lit photos have so many things wrong with them that I don’t even care about clarity at that point. :) See how much you can make a difference just by repositioning either your subject or your own perspective?

Backlit Photos | Photoshop Actions

Side note: I often show my clients the example photos showing why middle of the day, bright sun is not when I usually book sessions! :) Please feel free to share this post with your own clients!

3. Find or make shade.
Obviously, if you can find some kind of open shade to take advantage of, this is your best option. Get creative here! You can use the obvious reflector, umbrella, trees, buildings, even the shadow of another person or your own shadow if your subject is small enough. When chasing around my kids on the beach I shot when they either had their backs to the sun or were shielded by daddy. I also shot directly down at them, creating that shade with my own shadow. Be sure if you are using trees for shade that there aren’t any hot spots (too bright areas or dappled sun) coming through and falling on your subject from dappled light.

How to Shoot Photos in Full Sun Diagram

Find Open Shade When Shooting in Direct Sun

4. Watch for hot spots.
When shooting in bright, overhead sun it’s very important to watch for “hot spots” – where the sun hits and likely blows out your highlights while causing harsh shadows and lines.

Tips for Shooting in Direct Sun

5. Reflect that light.
Use a reflector – natural or carry one with you – to bounce light back on the subject and fill in the shadows. A reflector can be a light colored wall, open sky, an actual reflector, a sidewalk bouncing light back up to your subject, etc. Be sure there is sufficient light falling on your subject, especially if you are capturing a portrait with their eyes looking at you. For example, if you are standing against something like a treed area it would block any light above and behind you from reflecting onto the subject. For reflectors that are super inexpensive and easy to carry around and position yourself (yep, even while shooting one handed) I use this one. This diffuser is also great for softening and shading sunlight.

Photographing in Bright Sun

Photoshop Actions | Sunflare and Reflector Tips

7. Get some sunglasses.
For your camera, that is. Some photographers take advantage of Polarizing filters or Neutral Density filters for shooting in bright conditions. They allow less light in and therefore allow you to use smaller apertures and slower shutter speeds. Polarizing filters can also help cut down on reflections and intensify blue skies. They are a little bit like putting sunglasses on your lens.

8. Widen up your shot.
Shooting portraits can be challenging in direct sunlight, so it can help to shoot wider, taking in the entire scene and to have your subject involved in an activity or looking in a different direction. When you have subjects looking at you in the sun you may find a lot of people get “squinty,” so it can help to have them close their eyes and then open them again at the count of three – and then SNAP!

Photographing in Bright Sun
Edited with Grace Collection Photoshop actions (see editing tips for bright sunlight photos below).

9. Plan to shoot when the sun is lower if possible.
If you have the luxury of planning the time you’ll be shooting, it’s best to avoid mid-day sun. Most photographers know that the coveted light for beautiful photos comes at “golden hour” – that time right after sunrise and before sunset. This light is low in the sky and is therefore softer and the direction is more flattering any way you shoot it, as well as having a much more pleasant color (thus, the “golden hour” term). This is a time when setting a custom white balance is very important as the intense golden hue can be dramatic. You can read more about finding great light (and helping eyes sparkle) in this blog post. I especially recommend planning for good light (either by timing your shoots appropriately or by knowing your location so you are assured you’ll have some open shade to work with) if you are doing client sessions.

10. Wait just a bit.
Even waiting just a little bit can have a huge impact on the quality of light if you can let the sun go down a little in the sky … a little later in the afternoon versus high noon can make a big difference. Also, if you see some clouds hanging in the sky, waiting for a few to float over and provide some cover can provide you with a giant softbox in the sky with lovely, diffused light.

11. White Balance.
Don’t forget to custom white balance for correct color. This is especially important if you are shooting in that beautiful golden hour light as it can create a strong yellow cast on skin.

12. Other quick tricks.
If you can’t find a way to shade or manipulate that bright sun, just hide from it a bit it and throw on some sunglasses or a hat to shade the face or at least the eyes – or how about an umbrella? Some people also use fill flash, but I find I much prefer using natural light.

Backlit Photos | Photoshop Actions


Editing help for photos taken in direct sunlight.

You can slightly underexpose in order to give yourself a little room in post processing … this may allow you to bring back more of an overexposed background. But be careful that you don’t go too far under proper exposure or your skin tones and details will suffer.

Use actions like Save Highlights, Light Reflector and Brighten Shadows to help reduce too bright highlights and too dark shadows. See the Luminosity Collection, Picture Perfect or Grace Collection for these types of exposure helper actions.

A matte finish can really help soften images with harsh shadows and too much contrast. Some of my favorites for this are Film Haze from Luminosity Collection, as well as Airy Matte and Heathered Matte from Grace Collection.

Photographing in Bright Sun

Shooting Photos in Full Sun | Paint the Moon Photoshop Actions

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Paint the Moon - This Is Our Life Photo Project - 52 Week Lifestyle - Photoshop Actions

Most of the images in this post are edited with the Luminosity Photoshop action sets or the new Grace Collection Photoshop actions.

Lifestyle Photography Photoshop Actions - 52 Week Photo Project

What is lifestyle photography?

Lifestyle photography is a term that gets thrown around a lot and one that happens to have a bit of a different meaning depending on the photographer you are talking to. But, in it’s essence, it is the capturing of real life moments – genuine expressions, most often candid without the subject knowing the photo was being taken. No posing or fake smiles, taken candidly in most cases and often the subject is caught up in their own world, unaware you and the camera are even there. It’s the recording of precious details that pass us by everyday, and are often those little things that we look back on in later years and think, “Oh my goodness, I remember when …” It’s an interaction, an expression or emotion, the way we live, laugh and love. In future years these photos will be something to look back at and treasure, to remind us of the real moments and to tell our story to future generations.

In this original post you’ll find many examples of lifestyle photography as well as a plethora of helpful tips to getting started (or as a refresher to those already familiar with lifestyle photography). It’s a wonderfully helpful post whether or not you plan on doing the project with us.

Lifestyle Photography Photoshop Actions - 52 Week Photo Project

Lifestyle Photography Photoshop Actions - 52 Week Photo Project

Paint the Moon - This Is Our Life Photo Project - 52 Week Lifestyle Tips - Photoshop Actions

As someone who began her photography journey with the passion to capture the beauty in every day life, I’m excited to see that more and more photographers are embracing lifestyle photography. This project is for those who want to preserve and capture all those memories that are so important to us personally … and it’s about your life, so there really are no rules. But there are some tips to shooting lifestyle photography that may help you along the way that you’ll find below. But first I’ll explain a little about the project “This Is My Life” and how things will work. Simple. That is my goal for this project … no complicated guidelines or instructions.

There will be a prompt or theme every week for those who find it beneficial or challenging to have something specific to shoot in their project, but for those who simply want to venture out on their own and record the moments that matter to them regardless of the theme I wholeheartedly invite you to do so. Everyone is welcome – you don’t have to be a pro, you don’t even have to shoot with a DSLR to join, and you don’t need to use any Paint the Moon products to participate (although the images picked to be featured on the blog will be those that used PTM in their editing). Join anytime of the year and no beating yourself up if you miss a week … this is a no pressure or guilt project!

The first theme of 2014 for the “Our Life” project is BALANCE. Themes are always open to your own interpretation, and you’re always welcome to go out on your own with your subject as well. For my personal project some of the ideas I’ve thought of for the balance theme are something that shows how hard it is balancing my roles as mommy, photographer, wife, business owner, caretaker for parents, etc., etc. … a photo showing my newly standing baby who has just taken his first few steps this week … my daughter pretending to be a famous gymnast on the balance beam … those are just a few different ways the word balance could be shown in a photo. Use your imagination and fit it to your life!

Members will post their images in the new Flickr group for This Is Our Life … every Monday you’ll find the new prompt up on the Flickr group page (found inside the gray box) and it’s also listed in the 2014 Master Theme List thread in the discussion area on the Flickr page. Have your submissions for the week posted before Sunday evening please.

A new feature for 2014 is the option to use Instagram to post your weekly photo. Use #paintthemoon52 for the hashtag … if you used Paint the Moon products to process the image (not required) you can add #paintthemoon to the image as well. My plan is to pull member’s Instagram photos for the occasional spotlight as well. They can be your regular DSLR shots, edited with actions and uploaded to Instagram … or you can use iPhone shots if you desire. Or you can do both … a DSLR and edited shot for the regular post plus a separate iPhone weekly shot for the project. It’s your project – make it what you want!

I will be doing occasional blog posts that feature images from the group to show off some of our member’s photos (to be included in the featured images blog posts please use Paint the Moon products in the edit, otherwise it’s not required for any submissions or participation). Please submit only one photo per week. Sometimes it’s a challenge to pick our favorite as the photo of the week, but I find that is part of how we grow and learn.

Our regular Let’s Do 52 group will be starting fresh for 2014 as well for those interested in participating there as well. You may choose to do both projects or just one. And with both projects you can choose to follow the themes/prompts or do your own thing with the subject of your weekly photos. The Let’s Do 52 project information can be found here and the Flickr group here … for those wishing to challenge themselves with a weekly photo project, grow in your photography skills and stretch your creativity, but not necessarily take lifestyle photos, it’s the perfect project. If you are new to Let’s Do 52 or just need a refresher on the guidelines and details …please see the original post for the 2012 Let’s Do 52.

Please come share your project images on our Facebook wall as well … see the Paint the Moon Facebook Page – Come Share, Be Inspired, and Ask Questions!

Paint the Moon - This Is Our Life Photo Project - 52 Week Lifestyle - Photoshop Actions

Click here for a very in depth post all about capturing lifestyle photography … finding good light indoors, settings, capturing candid moments, etc.

This project is all about YOUR life – and taking lifestyle shots are all about genuine moments, the real life raw emotion and the relaxed, everyday details that make our lives so special. Although many of you are lifestyle photographers for your clients, this project and information below is more focused on the personal lifestyle shots that you take just for YOU. I talk a lot about capturing moments with your children in the details below, however, this project is for everyone no matter what your life is like … whether you have children or not, it’s meant to help you record the important memories in your life and the details you want to remember forever. Be sure to Lifestyle Photography Photoshop Actions - 52 Week Photo Project

Paint the Moon - This Is Our Life Photo Project - 52 Week Lifestyle Tips - Photoshop Actions

All the links …

Paint the Moon {this is our life} Flickr Group

Regular Let’s Do 52 Flickr Group

Original post with details for the Let’s Do 52

Share your project images on our Paint the Moon Facebook wall … come Share, be inspired, and ask questions!


Getting Kids to Smile in Photos With Real Authentic Expressions Photoshop Actions Elements PSE

52 Week Project Photos Photoshop Actions for Photographers Enhance Plug-In PSE

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