8 Invaluable Tools for Outdoor Photographers on a Sunny Day

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Generally, photographers are taught to shoot in the early morning hours, or around the “Golden Hour” (sunset/twilight hour) for the best light, because the light of midday afternoon is too harsh or too bright for making well-balanced exposures. However, if we were limited to just those nominal number of hours per day to capture a photo, we would miss many opportunities for great photos and decisive moments.

Behind the scenes of a midday fashion photo shoot. <em>Model: Daria Komarkova</em>
Behind the scenes of a midday fashion photo shoot Model: Daria KomarkovaYann Bizuel

Thankfully, technology has provided us with many tools to aid, compensate, and allow us to shoot in bright sunlight without hassle and without losing image quality. No matter what type of photographs you create, you may find one or more of these tools extremely helpful during the capture and review process when working outdoors on a bright, sunny day.

Hoodman HoodEye

The Hoodman HoodEye is a handy accessory that replaces the viewfinder’s rubber eyepiece on your camera. It not only blocks out ambient light, but I find that it also blocks some distractions in my peripheral field of vision while I am shooting. The HoodEye can be flipped to suit a left- or right-eyed user.

After removing the rubber eyepiece from the viewfinder, the Hoodman HoodEye slides easily over the mounting rails, into place. No more squinting into the viewfinder when the sun is out!

Hoodman HoodLoupe

Ever find yourself using your hand to ward the glare of the sun from your LCD screen while reviewing images? The Hoodman HoodLoupe allows you to view those images without light glare creating a nuisance. You place the HoodLoupe over the LCD screen and look through the eyepiece the way you would with a viewfinder.

Hoodman HoodLoupe Outdoor LCD Viewfinder
Hoodman HoodLoupe Outdoor LCD Viewfinder

Not only does this innovative accessory give you an unobstructed view of your pictures on the LCD screen, but there’s also a +/- 3 diopter feature that provides optical correction for those with less than perfect vision.

Polarizing Filter

Beyond protecting the front element of your lens, polarizing filters help to reduce glare and reflections in when shooting in sunlight, especially when shooting through glass. This type of filter also makes colors appear more vibrant and contrasts more pronounced. A polarizing filter is great to use on a sunny day to pump up the contrast between a blue sky and clouds.

ND Filter Kit

Neutral density filters reduce the amount of light that hits the image sensor in your camera. When you want to create shallow depth of field, normally you would shoot with a large aperture. On a bright sunny day, this would cause overexposure. By adding an ND filter to your lens, you can reduce the amount of light striking the sensor and slow your shutter speed, enabling shallow depth of field, balancing the exposure, and creating pleasing effects such as softening and smoothing flowing water.

Tiffen 77mm Digital ND Filter Kit (2, 3, 4-Stop)
Tiffen 77mm Digital ND Filter Kit (2, 3, 4-Stop)

ND filters can come in as many as 10-stop increments for a variety of exposure control.

5-in-1 Portable Collapsible Reflector

Savage 5-in-1 Reflector
Savage 5-in-1 Reflector
  • White: subtly fills in shadows when placed close to a subject
  • Black: creates a shadow by absorbing light when placed close to a subject
  • Gold: warms a scene or subject—great for rendering warm, healthy skin tones
  • Silver: fills in shadows and provides specular highlights
  • Translucent: works as a diffuser between a light source (the sun) and a subject to soften harsh light

Larger portable collapsible reflectors can also serve as a portable background option for headshots.

Flags/Scrims Set

Flags and scrims are also invaluable tools when the sun might be overbearing on your subject. Flags are used to completely block a light source from illuminating a subject, or to protect your lens from stray light flare, while scrims are used to reduce the amount of light that a light source projects onto your subject.

Digital Juice Pro Flag Kit (24 x 36")
Digital Juice Pro Flag Kit (24 x 36")

Two kits worth mentioning are the Digital Juice Pro Flag Kit and the Matthews RoadRags Kit, each containing scrims and flags. They are easy to construct and break down, as well as store in a convenient carrying case, included with each kit.

Matthews RoadRags Kit (18 x 24")
Matthews RoadRags Kit (18 x 24")

Westcott makes a variety of Scrim Jim Kits in larger sizes ranging from 4 x 4' to 8 x 8' to cover all of your indoor and outdoor lighting-control needs.

Think Tank Photo Pixel Sunscreen

If you shoot tethered outdoors in the sun, whether it’s a fashion shoot, landscape, or cityscape, the Think Tank Photo Pixel Sunscreen is key for keeping glare from your laptop screen while shooting and editing on location. This is especially important when you need to review detail in your images. Having a portable dark space around your viewing screen blocks ambient light intrusion.

Think Tank Photo Pixel Sunscreen
Think Tank Photo Pixel Sunscreen

Interior pockets inside the Think Tank Photo Pixel Sunscreen store various small photoshoot necessities.

Battery-Powered Flash Lighting

Battery-powered flash lighting, such as speedlights and strobes, are very useful for outdoor portrait and fashion photographers—they can fill unwanted shadows and enable balanced exposures, and your subject won’t be squinting into the sun. A few instances where you may want to use flash lighting outdoors are when:

  • The sunlight is at 12 o’clock, causing dark circles under the eyes and chin of your subject
  • Your subject is backlit
  • The background is well lit but your subject is in the shade

Adding a pop of flash as fill can save a portrait from falling flat.

Left to right: Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight, Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT and Canon ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter, and Nissin Di700A Flash Kit w/ Air 1 Commander

While speedlights are a more portable choice, if you work both inside and outside of a studio, a battery-powered strobe kit can be a versatile, more powerful, way to go. Strobe lights also provide more modification options, which make diffusing, shaping, and coloring the light most flexible in a studio environment.

Clockwise from top left: Profoto B1X 500 AirTTL 2-Light Location Kit, Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL Dual To Go Kit, Broncolor Siros L 800Ws Battery-Powered 2-Light Outdoor Kit 2, and Interfit S1 On-Location Portable 2-Light Backpack Kit

Tying It Altogether

A bright, sunny day doesn’t necessarily mean squinty-eyed photos, washed-out images, or the nuisance of trying to capture them blindly. With the proper accessories and equipment, shooting in the sun can be a breeze and can bag you some spectacular images, to boot.

What are some of your favorite workarounds for shooting in bright sunlight? Talk to us in the Comments section, below.

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