Portrait Photography in Bright Midday Sun

Natural light portraiture is forever popular, but as us photographers know, more light isn't necessarily better. In fact, like half-breed vampires, we shy away from the sun at its brightest during midday.

As much as I generally prefer using strobes, even if balanced with available light, sometimes the sun just produces the most pleasing light and you can't help yourself. These brief but wonderful windows are typically early in the morning or in the late afternoon, when the sun is low. When the sun is directly overhead, at its highest, and often its brightest, there's not a lot that can be done with it. As a result, most photographers avoid outdoor shoots at this time like the plague. However, it isn't simply a write-off, you just have to use it for what it is.

In the video, Peter Coulson conducts a portrait shoot when the light is considered to be at its most unflattering, casting harsh shadows. In this situation, you could mitigate the contrast with reflectors, or you could do as Coulson does and lean into it. High contrast works particularly well for black and white imagery, as is evident from this shoot.

Do you ever shoot in the dreaded midday sun? How do you handle it and do you harness its power?

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4 Comments
Timothy Roper's picture

Not bad. But for a true education in this, check out Herb Ritts' photos taken under the sun on his studio's rooftop in LA. The ones of Madonna are classic and iconic, but he shot many other portraits up there in the harsh light. As for why they work so well, the big white wall is key (no pun intended, as it's part of the fill).

N A's picture

Did anyone actually watch the video before posting this?

The photos are just plain bad and the photographer gives off a really creepy vibe. Didn't think to mow the lawn or tidy up around the deck chair? The model's outfit is kinda trashy... guess the look fits in with the environment.

What is the purpose of these photos? I'm no prude but the leg spread squats (2:57) don't exactly exude respectful photography. The shovel really sold the whole thing. Got some digging to do. Right here on this weed infested brick patio.

Who's going to buy shots like these? An alt mag or similar online publication?

"I reckon we do some hosing". lol

"Cool cool. Nice nice. Awesome awesome awesome."

I may be way off on this and I am NOT saying he's a bad dude but this guy just _SOUNDS_ like #metoo waiting to happen.

There's gotta be a better way of a) photographing subjects in situations like this and b) communicating without sounding like a novice nervous wreck around a scantily clad young woman.

Where's Andy Day when we need him?

michael butler's picture

I agree with NA, what is the point of this video, it's not educational, it is not professional, the images are weird, tacky and not at all flattering of the model or photographer. Too much of this low rent stuff showing on Fstoppers these days, like my photographs, only 10% or so are worth keeping. Too bad because Fstoppers does put out some extremely good video but unfortunately not this one.