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How to get great shots in strong summer light

Photography has come a long way since then and digital sensors are capable of handling 14 stops of light as opposed to 5 stops in the days of transparency film. Whilst the principles are the same we have so much more control now. The key is to understand how to handle harsh lighting situations to create dramatic images. We’ve all heard that it’s best to photograph at either ends of the day for the best light but don’t put your camera away when the sun is high in the sky because you’ll be missing out on so many more great photo possibilities. Using a polarising filter will help to darken the blue sky and make those clouds pop out as well as glare and reflections from foliage water and buildings thus increasing color saturation. The bright highlights of rocky coastlines and white buildings can often run the risk of in strong lighting conditions, but using a polariser will help to control the light. It’s especially useful at midday in tropical coast locations when the sun penetrates the water reflecting off a sandy ocean floor. A polariser will have reflections on the surface of the water allowing the turquoise color to come through.

Make it monochrome

I always say ‘If you don’t have the light make it black & white.’ But even when the sun is high you can create images with impact. When there isn’t any from color the scene relies on line shape texture light and shadow. I switch my camera display to monochrome – in the settings under picture control or style – so I can see how the tones will work in black & white.

HDR for extremes

When lighting conditions are extremely harsh, it can be difficult to copy with the wide exposure latitudes presented by the scene. One way to combat this is to create multiple images exposing for the highlights mid tones and shadows and then combine them using Light room or the processing software of your choice. As I use the camera with its wide latitude sensor I find that I seldom need to do this as I can control the exposure range of a strongly lit scene by exposing for the highlights and then lighten the shadows in post processing. So the next time you are confronted with harsh lighting either at home or away keep your camera at the ready and consider trying some of these simple techniques to create images with instant impact.

Why it works

Photographing in harsh sunlight normally produces flat, boring images but when I was in the Caribbean I shot this Divi tree under the strong midday sun. I had no idea it would turn out to be my bestselling image appearing in magazines, cards, calendars, puzzles and in IKEA as a canvas print for five years. I actually photographed it at sunrise and sunset as well but neither image produced the appeal this one has. I used a panoramic camera with Velvia to create deep saturated colors. A polariser provided the finishing touch by removing the glare on the surface of the water allowing the turquoise color to come through. It also darkened down the blue sky giving a contrast to the white clouds that seemingly emanate from the tree.

Use shadows creatively

Shadows can often but you can use them to your advantage. They can add depth to your photo and act as leading lines to direct the viewer through the photo, especially when using a wide angle lens.

Slow it down

An ND filter is great for getting rid of people from a busy beach as I did here in Carmel Bay California. I used a 1-minute exposure to give the sunlit beach a softer look and the people walking along the beach disappeared.

Striking silhouettes

Shooting into the sun can produce graphic results. Select a definable subject and try not to merge different elements together. Place the sun behind your subject and have it peek out using a small aperture to create a sunburst.


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