Summer equals fun in the sun, right?! We’ll be enjoying the outdoors and wanting to capture the good times taking place. My main subjects are my kids. We go outside at midday most days, and I’ll photograph them lying in the hammock, playing catch, splashing in the pool, or romping through the sprinkler, like most kids in the summertime.

It’s common to get dark under-eye circles or squinting eyes. One can get away with having certain areas of the frame falling into shadow when photographing people involved in an activity — there’s a little forgiveness for not having the “perfect” lighting. But shooting in full sunlight or hard light can be intimidating. That’s why I’ve learned a few ways to use the given light to my advantage.

1. Sun at subject’s back.

If you don’t like hard shadows, try photographing in open spaces with the sun at the subject’s back. Use the spot metering setting in your camera to meter for proper exposure of the subject’s face. This might cause the background to be overexposed, so you can choose to slightly underexpose to save those highlights.

Shooting in full sun, little girl with green watering can

2. Face the sun.

You could also have your subject turn toward the sun with her face tilted up so the whole face is illuminated without shadows. Quick tip: Have your subjects close their eyes or wear shades to protect the eyes from the direct sun.

Siblings hug in photograph taken in full sun

3. Use angles.

Look at your subjects from every angle and observe how the light is falling on them until you find a flattering angle that works for your desired look. You can manipulate how you photograph in hard light the same way you would any other light.

“Shooting in full sun can be intimidating.”

4. Focus on colors!

I love how the sun brings out colors. You may get more of a vibrant image when photographing in full sun. When I see lots of colors in an image that is not too saturated, but more vivid, that photo stands out to me.

Little girl in red dress stands in dappled light of full sun
Colorful summer photo at waterpark in full sun

5. Learn to love forced shadows.

In a location that is not open, you can use that to your benefit. Sometimes dappled light or small patches of light filtering through objects can add interest to your photograph or help tell the story.

I find this incredibly fun to play around with. I use this often indoors with the light coming through the blinds and creating lines on my subjects to make the image more visually interesting.

Outdoors, I’ll use leafy trees to create cool patterns on my subject and her surroundings. I always find street photography so intriguing when subjects are framed by shadows and illuminated by the light coming through buildings.

Little girl with dappled light on her face in full sun photo

6. Open shade.

If you really would like to avoid hard, direct sun, find open shade. Downtown alleys are great for open shade; using buildings to block the sun and give you soft reflected light will make the lighting on your subjects very pleasing. Big trees in your yard or at a playground would be ideal to evenly light your subject. Put your subjects at the edge of the shaded area facing the light so you get fill light on their face.

“You may get a more vibrant image when photographing in the full sun.”

7. The joy of natural reflectors.

My house becomes a reflector when the sun is beaming down on it, and I’ve used that as a natural reflector when we’re out playing in the backyard. Using what you have on hand or around you could be a benefit when tackling full sun, like a backyard umbrella or covering on your front porch.

Little girl plays in sun under tree
Baby plays on a sidewalk in full sun photo

8. Customize your editing for hard light.

I love to edit — sometimes I find it more fun than the actual photography experience. Learning new ways to bring more life to a photo is extremely rewarding to me. Find you a good editing software (I edit in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop) so that you can balance out your exposure, to bring back some of that detail in the highlights or shadows that you had to compensate for in camera and also bring your photo to life.

Full sun photo of girl standing in street

Photos by Krystal Weir

This article first appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of Click Magazine. Get your issue from the Click & Co. Store, or subscribe so you never miss an issue.