Direct, harsh sunlight creates specific shooting challenges for photographers of every skill level. Here, we'll review some tips to help you use bright light and hard shadows to your advantage.
Hard Light Is Good Light
Direct sunlight can be helpful for photographers in many ways. Its brightness means that you can shoot with fast shutter speeds that reduce the chances of blurry pictures. And when you encounter shadows from objects and people, bright light helps create contrast. However, those high-contrast situations can pose a range of problems that can detract from overall picture quality; learning a few tips, though, will help you exploit bright light to your advantage.
If you're shooting portraits in bright light, you'll encounter harsh shadows on your subject's face, squinted eyes, and other challenges. Putting the sun behind your subject eliminates squinting, but you'll probably still see unflattering shadows. This is a situation where using fill flash will help reduce shadowing and put your subject in a better light. Most camera's let you adjust flash brightness, so experiment until you've learned to reduce shadows without overexposing facial features.
Alternately, you can move your subject into a shady area where the light isn't so harsh. You may see a very bright background, though, that fools your camera's light meter into underexposing the picture. This is another case where fill flash may be very useful.
Control the Variables
If you shoot subjects with deep shadows in a bright environment, your camera's automatic exposure mode may underexpose the picture, making the shadows so dark that they contain little detail. By slowing the shutter speed slightly (or using your camera's exposure compensation mode) you can make minor adjustments to the exposure and reveal more details in dark areas. The reverse is also true; if the critical parts of your image are blown out by overexposure, a faster shutter speed will preserve details and create a better overall image.
Of course, you can also use over-exposed images for artistic effect. You can simply allow bright areas to be very bright in the resulting image, and provided your primary subject is darker, you can use the bright areas to isolate a subject and draw more attention to it.
Pointing your camera directly at the sun can be dangerous and damaging not only to your eyes, but to your camera, too. Don't point your lens directly at a bright noontime sun.
Likewise, when you shoot with your lens pointed in the sun's general direction, you're more likely to see lens flare and other artifacts in your images. You can use these to your advantage creatively, but if you're not attentive those same artifacts may obscure your subject or distract viewers from more important elements of your composition.
Black and White Always Works
Black and white photography is all about space, form, and yes, contrast. Many professional photographers actually prefer shooting in bright, harsh light because it brings so much contrast to their black-and-white images.
Keep this in mind, both while you're shooting and when you begin an editing session at your computer. While you're in the field, don't be afraid to let some harder light sneak into your compositions. Use the lines between shadows and light to bring more drama to your overall composition.
And when you're editing at your computer, take some time to change color photos to black-and-white. You may be surprised how much difference your images look when you desaturate them.