Travel photography tips for midday sun
Are you about to embark on your dream vacation? Or travel to a place you have been longing to see? You can’t wait to take pictures and capture the scenery. When there, you do everything right: stop at every scenic lookout, take your time, and take your best shots. You are picturing the perfect photography wall art pictures hanging in your home. But when you get home, they aren’t so perfect. Travel photography can be tough and taking pictures midday adds to the difficulty. Some photography tips for taking pictures in midday sun are discussed below.
Many reasons can limit your ability to get beautiful landscape photography prints when you travel. You may be limited by time in one place and can’t return for the best weather conditions. Sometimes you are traveling with others and have little control over when you go to photograph. And if you are traveling with non-photographers, this really becomes challenging.
Most know that you should take landscape pictures in the early morning or late in the day — the golden hours. If you can, this is ideal and is still my recommendation. But what if you can’t? Do you go home with no pictures? Here are some tips to help you take your best landscape photography while traveling and during less than optimal sunlight times, including midday. So if you have to be in a place midday, don’t pack away the camera. Instead, try these tips.
1. Start with the sunny 16 rule for shooting pictures midday
The sunny 16 rule implies that an f/16 aperture, at ISO 100 and 1/100 shutter speed will give you a proper exposure when shooting front lit scenes on sunny days. It is usually pretty close and gives you a good starting point. You can adjust from there. If your ISO is 200, shoot at shutter speed 1/200. Understanding the exposure triangle and how changes in shutter and aperture affect the amount of light entering your lens is a huge benefit when applying this rule. In you don’t have a good understanding, here is a cheat chart to get your started.
|SHUTTER SPEED AT ISO 100||1/100||1/200||1/400|
|SHUTTER SPEED AT ISO 200||1/200||1/400||1/800|
|SHUTTER SPEED AT ISO 400||1/400||1/800||1/1600|
There are even apps for your phone that will calculate the sunny 16 exposure for you. Disclaimer: I have never used one so I can’t comment on them first hand.
2. Bracket your shot when taking pictures midday
Bracket a series of images, meaning take 3 or more identical shots at different exposures. Most modern cameras, both DSLRs and Mirrorless, will have an option to bracket pictures. Check your camera manuals. Bracketing landscape photography is a common practice. I bracket 3 shots, one at proper exposure, one 1-stop underexposed, and one 1-stop overexposed.
This can be particularly helpful. Generally speaking, your sky will require an underexposed shot while your scene will require a different exposure. Exposure bracketing will assist with this. You will need to combine the three shots into one exposure in post processing software. Photoshop does this. My personal favorite is Photomatrix which is incredibly easy to use. Combining your multiple shots will create a high dynamic range photo (HDR) and Photomatrix gives you a lot of options for choices. I personally only do this for a natural photographic look, but some people like the painterly files and even heavy HDR files. It is a personal preference.
3. Underexpose photo for midday pictures
You can also underexpose slightly if you use any post-processing software. Landscape photography prints are easy to blow out highlights (bright areas) in full sun. In post processing, adding more light to dark areas is much easier to do than taking out light from bright areas. Most times you cannot adjust blown highlights sufficiently so keep this in mind.
4. Simplify your shot with a medium telephoto lens
It is drilled into landscape photography courses that a wide angle lens is your best friend. When shooting midday, try using a medium telephoto lens instead. A medium telephoto lens would be a focal length around 70-200. Yes, the telephoto lens will “zoom” in on your subject, but it also compresses the background and your subject. This makes your background look larger and closer to your subject.
Pictures of mountains are optimal for a telephoto lens. When shot with a wide angle lens, hills and mountains tend to have a reduced sense of scale. You can also isolate detail, shape, form and any other interesting parts of the scene.
5. Use a neutral density filter
A neutral density filter is an essential item for travel photography. Think of a neutral density filter like sunglasses for your lens. In a nutshell, a the filter blocks the light in a neutral way without changing the color of the light. So if you want to use a longer exposure a this can be ideal.
There are several types of neutral density filters. A screw on type for your lens is my preference. The filters come in stops. A stop in photography is either halving or doubling. So 1 stop is halving the amount of light by 50%. A 9 stop neutral density filter is stopping the light by 9 halves. It may take a little time to get used to using a neutral density filter, so get one before your trip and practice with it before you leave.
6. Use a circular polarizer – BUT SEE PRECAUTIONS BELOW
A circular polarizer and make a big different in some circumstances. A polarizer can:
- Control reflections,
- Cut glare on water or glass
- Bring out certain colors such as green in leaves and blue skies
- Give definition to clouds
- Overall, a circular polarizer will reduce the intensity of light and colors
- A polarizer is ideal for snow
Precautions when using polarizers
- Polarizers should be used at right angles to the sun. In other words, avoid shooting with the sun either in front of you are behind you.
- Point your camera to one side of the sun.
- Be careful not to over use the polarizing effects. A blue sky can become almost black
- Avoid shooting the sky with wide angle lenses. The wide field could result in vignetting, an image darker on the outer edges and brighter in the center or vice versa. Pick a focal length of 35 mm and longer when shooting the sky with a polarizing filter.
- Use a thin polarizer on a wide angle lens to avoid vignetting in the corners.
- Select an aperture of f/8 or smaller. A wider aperture may result in some vignetting.
7. Graduated neutral density filter
I used to use a graduated neutral density filter. Since I can just as easily replicate this in Lightroom or other post-processing software, I no longer use one. But if you are not comfortable with post processing, this is something to consider.
8. Change your position when shooting midday photos
You may have to move to find the best angle. Shooting with the sun behind you can help avoid some of the harsh rays. Also, shooting from a lower position may help.
9. Watch the clouds
If you have some clouds in the sky, be patient. One cloud may block some sun and create a natural diffuser.
Full cloud coverage can also provide some dramatic skies. Have you ever seen the rays of the sun providing long streaks to the earth? This occurs when the sun breaks through the clouds and is sometimes called “god rays”. Use it to your advantage.
Cloudy days also pop colors. Take advantage of these times for landscapes with reds and bright colors.
10. Shoot in black and white
Review your scene and picture it in black and white. Concentrate on the light, the shade, the shadows. You need to see the scene in black and white in order to capture a good black and white picture.
Ways to work with Daylight
Working with Daylight
There are also some ways to work with daylight when you can’t work around it.
- Midday light can provide some dramatic reflections in photography. When the sun is at its highest point, it is the easiest to capture dramatic reflections.
- Look for shadows. Many times the shadows of midday light are not favorable. But you may find a unique long exaggerated shadow and create an image you would not have gotten at golden hour.
- Create lens flare. Are you a fan of sun bursts? Set your camera to a small aperture (f/16 to f/22). Position yourself so that the sun is partially blocked by an object in front of you. When the beams of light go around the object, take your shot. You can get some pretty pictures this way by using the sun to your advantage. A wide angle lens can help capture this.
- Are you a fan of sun bursts? Set your camera to a small aperture (f/16 to f/22). Position yourself so that the sun is partially blocked by an object in front of you. When the beams of light go around the object, take your shot. You can get some pretty pictures this way by using the sun to your advantage. A wide angle lens can help capture this.
Pay attention to the angle of the sunlight.
There are three types of direct light: front light, back light, and side light. Paying attention to where the sun light is coming from can help you compose your shot.
This is the easiest to shoot. The sun is behind you and illuminating your subject.
Ideal for showing off Landscape colors.
The sun light is coming into the scene from either side, right or left. This is my preferred light for shooting midday.
- Highlights textures
- Can create photos with a lot of depth due to dramatic long shadows and dimension
With backlight, you are looking toward the sun. This is difficult with midday sun.
If you have a rental car and the flexibility to go out when you want to, start before sunrise and before sunset. Do your research ahead of time so you know where the sun will be at each location. But since this is not always possible when you travel. I hope these tips help you with your next travel photography adventure.
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Debbi Marquette Photography is located in Upstate New York at the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. Debbi is an award winning and published travel, landscape and bald eagle photographer specializing in artistic, authentic, and memorable landscape and wildlife photography. She travels frequently, lives near the mountains and constantly has a camera in her hand to capture photographs so others can see the beauty of our world.
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