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How to Take Good Photos in the Middle of the Day

Ah, the “magic hour.” The time of day when the sunlight is soft, diffused and often full of color.

Most photographers aim to shoot during this magic time, which generally falls around sunrise & sunset (this image was captured at Schwabacher Landing at sunset, in case you were wondering).

The problem is that it’s not easy to drag yourself & all of your gear outside in the wee hours of the morning or during dinner time. It’s hard enough to motivate yourself to get up super early in your “regular” life; it can be even harder while on vacation.

I mean really, how many of us want to set our alarm for 4 in the morning when we’re supposed to be relaxing? Aren’t vacations meant for sleeping in?

Unless you’re on a trip specifically to take photos, getting up super early or missing dinner might just not be an option.

So what are you to do? Well, you just make it work wherever you happen to be, at whatever time you happen to be there.

Plenty of people won’t agree with me. “You’ll never get a good shot at noon,” they’ll claim. And yeah, for the most part, they’re right. But better noon than never, right?

This image was taken in the afternoon around 3 or 4pm. Even though the sun is out in full force, the lighting is still pretty even so there aren’t any harsh shadows. And the sun makes the sea’s color pop even more and I think makes it look enticing.

While it may not be ideal to take photos in the middle of the day, for me the image still works and it’s a matter of your own preference.

As with most everything in photography, if you know a few tricks & ways to use light creatively, you can definitely improve your shots – even at high noon.

Ways to Improve Your Midday Photographs

1. Be aware of the angle of the sun & reposition if necessary.

As you start to hone your photography skills, you’ll learn to see and assess all types of lighting.

The big ol’ ball of fire in the sky is one of your very best tools. You can’t have a photograph without light, and the sun provides lots of it. The biggest challenge is learning to use it properly.

Depending on all kinds of things – time of day, weather, where you are on earth (northern or southern hemisphere) – you’re going to get a different quality of light.

Your task is to analyze what kind of light it is at the moment you want to take your photo, and utilize this light to the best of your advantage.
Geisha in Japan

I photographed these women dressed as geisha in Kyoto, Japan, in the middle of the day. You can see some direct light on the lady’s face on the right, but overall, not bad for a quickly captured photo (I literally had about 2 seconds to get this before they moved on).

I used a 50mm fixed lens and it doesn’t have a lens shade, so I did get some lens flare. But I actually don’t mind that.

The sun is almost directly overhead, but because of the way the women were positioned – with the sun slightly behind the subject and to my left – you kinda get a nice rim light around the edge of their hair and shoulders.

 

2. Use the harsh light to your creative advantage.

Not all harsh shadows are bad. Sometimes it forces you to get creative and your resulting image is often much more striking.

After playing tennis late one morning, I had wanted to take some kind of tennis-related photo. I didn’t have a clear vision, but I knew I wanted something that told a bit of a story using either the tennis ball, racquet or both.

Here’s the result of what I snapped with my iPhone. What do you think?

3. Shoot on Cloudy Days (or wait for a cloud to obscure the sun).

Cloudy days have a way of creating beautifully diffused light that’s a lot softer.

When we visited Matsumoto Castle in Japan in April, the skies were overcast and had just finished dumping a flurry of snow on us.

I did like the more moody look of the castle and took a bunch of shots before we toured the inside. Here’s one.

Matsumoto Castle, Japan

After the tour, though, the sun had come out and now the look was completely different. The sky was a bright blue with white fluffy clouds. What a difference an hour makes!
Matsumoto Castle, Japan

I actually like both photos for different reasons. So sometimes it’s also just about shooting a bunch and at the end seeing what you like. Maybe, like me, you’ll get photos you like both when the sun was fully out and when it wasn’t.

Summary

Basically, I don’t think you have to completely write off taking good images during the day.

With a little creativity, imagination and compromise, you can still take great photos.

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