Shooting at High Noon

 In a perfect world, we would always shoot with perfect light at the right time of the day.  But reality is different. We often have to shoot in terrible light at the wrong time of day.  What to do? Create your own reality, or in this case, create your own light.

One assignment scenario I often face is shooting outside in the middle of the day. While this isn’t a big problem on a cloudy or overcast day, the light can be harsh on a sunny, blue-sky day with no shade. One option when shooting a portrait in this situation would be to put your subject under natural shade. Another alternative would be to put up a giant overhead silk for your model to stand under. But what if you don’t have shade or an overhead silk? As long as you have a flash or a reflector, you have room to maneuver.

Reflectors are inexpensive and simple to use. They reflect the sun back onto your subject, filling in those harsh shadows. Reflectors come in a variety of colors which will show up on your model. Gold reflectors add a warm tone to your subject, while a silver one will add a spectacular shiny light. This is a great choice if you don’t have a flash.

I personally prefer to use either speedlights or larger studio flash primarily because flash has the power and flexibility to allow us to change our background exposure. For example, if we want a dark sky in the middle of the day, we set our aperture at F22, ISO at 100 and shutter speed at 1/250. This exposure in the middle of the day will result in dark backgrounds. But since our Elinchrom Rangers can produce F22 of light, our flash exposure is correct. Reflectors, on the other hand, have limited means to control the amount of light they reflect. Generally, you move the reflector farther away from the subject to reduce the amount of reflected light. But since reflected light is a continuous source of light originating from the sun, if you underexpose the daylight you will also underexpose the reflector light.  


 We recently photographed a trail runner in the middle of the day. We wanted a bright shot, so we had to avoid dramatically underexposing the background (“dropping the background”).  We used a single Elinchrom Ranger with a 53” Octabank and set the exposure so that the background would be around a 1/2 to 1 stop underexposed. This allowed our flash to come through in the final shot.  We used the sun as our “second light”.  Since the runner was running broadside to the sun, we had a cross lighting situation with the sun as one light and our strobe as the other light.

Be sure to always watch your shadows when shooting in direct sun. Having multiple shadows going in different directions will not make for a good image. These shadows generally show up on the ground below your subject.  However, if you are shooting from the waist up, this isn’t as big of a problem.

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I love all the advice and posts!!! you guys help me out alot with me building my photography business..thank you so much and keep up the great advice, tips and much more!!!!

 I'd like to say, perhaps there should be a content editor for this blog.   I understand that shoots do not always turn out as planned, but there has been a rather steep downturn of the articles lately.  Poor photographs, unhelpful/unprofessional/incorrect advice....I have recommended the B&H blog in the past to students based on it's usefulness, but I find myself increasingly disappointed.  For example, in this article, the SUBJECT is not in focus in the last photograph.  The background is.  That, or if she is the point of focus, the shutter speed wasn't fast enough.  There's blur on her lead foot.  In this instance, it's not that big of a deal (though the face the model is making is horrendous, that's something that might be hard for the photographer to control), but in the food article, for example, everything was bad.  Everything.  The advice in this is great, while doing of a good job of plugging products without being obnoxious (Though let's be fair, I don't think there's a photo product that CAN'T be found at B&H (And good on ya' for that!)), but I can't help but be distracted by the things that prevent it from being great.

Get a grip, people learn a great deal from B&H blog posts.I know I do, my skills have improved because of them.

The model's face is not horrendous, that's unfair. Perhaps the point of the post was to teach about shooting in the sun at high noon and not an invitation to critique the model's facial expression....

I'd like to hear about other types of shooting at high noon, rather than portraits. Reflectors and fill flash are pretty well known uses for brightly lit, outdoor portraits.

Hi Folks,

I'm always interested in other's feedback, and part of the function of blog posts open to feedback is a healthy discussion about posts.  My posts are designed to give possible solutions to photography challenges, both creative and technical. Since photography is subjective at many levels, it would follow that not all would agree with blog/image content or what the subject is in the shot.  This post was designed to answer some questions concerning lighting in the middle of day.  If others have suggestions that would help or different ways of doing things, please add them, it is more information for all photographer's to use.   

Thanks for the tip.  As an on location shooter, I will try keep this in mind for clients who book mid-day sessions which I always try to avoid.   

The shadow in the final image bugs me a bit, since the right side of her face has more light, yet the shadow goes to the right as well.  That doesn't look right IMO.  Maybe the ER's power should be dialed down.  

Awesome shots!! I think it looks great!! Great tips and advice...By the way, it is funny how contrary people write in anonymously...You guys do a great job! 

 I'm just a beginner but I'm a perfectionist by nature so I appreciate the blog and I appreciate the criticisms  (gives me more to consider) - but  maybe with a little more tact, huh? This is a blog and a conversation not a university. I know I haven't gotten a bill for this information. (the tone was pretty harsh but actually the only thing that I thought went too far was the comment about the models face. I just don't understand the criticism.) Thanks to all.