Shooting Stunning Portraits in Harsh Sunlight: The Right Gear and Equipment



Apr 3, 2023

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I bet no one wants to behold a portrait with many makeup smudges, blemishes, pores, and other imperfections. Sadly, that is what happens when pictures are taken in harsh sunlight the wrong way.

While shooting with harsh sunlight can be the stroke of magic you need, the major challenge of shooting portraits in harsh sunlight is that it creates harsh shadows over the subject's face, thereby emphasizing details that are better left hidden.

Fortunately, there are ways to overcome this challenge, and one way to do so is to use the right gear and equipment. While good gear isn't invincible, it decreases the odds of failure during a shoot. Great gear ensures your pictures always come out beautiful.


Choosing the Right Camera

Not all cameras can handle harsh sunlight. Certain features are needed including:

  • Exposure Compensation: A camera with the ideal exposure compensation range will enable you to darken an overexposed image, brighten an underexposed one, and generally take control of all exposure variables. Exposure compensation enables your camera to automatically change its exposure variables (i.e., shutter speed, ISO, and aperture) to give just the right brightness.
  • Dynamic Range: This measures the ratio between an image's brightest and darkest parts. It is what determines the amount of detail that can be captured in a picture. A camera with a high dynamic range ensures that more details in shadows and highlights are captured. Sony Alpha A7R IV, Fujifilm GFX 50S II, and Canon EOS R are some of the best camera models for shooting in bright sunlight.

Selecting the Best Lenses

The absence of a lens will prevent your camera body from capturing images. But it’s not just enough to choose any lens that catches your fancy, more is needed; choosing the right lens will enable you to produce pictures of high quality and image resolution.

Choosing lenses with the right aperture and focal length for shooting in harsh sunlight is equally important. The smaller the value of the aperture, the brighter the lens, and this results in a wide depth of field that enables you to determine the sensitive parts in your image.

The focal length, however, determines the number of scenes captured in a picture. Selecting the right focal length lens (85mm ideally) will give you a wider view of one picture.

Some of the best lens options for portrait photography in harsh sunlight include Nikon 50mm f/1.8G, Canon EF 85mm, and Nikon AF-S, amongst others.

Lighting Options for Shooting in Bright Sunlight

Harsh sunlight is bemoaned by professionals and amateurs alike, but with the right lighting options, the bright sun can create something magical.

Some of the most common lighting options include reflectors and diffusers. These accessories modify the quality, intensity, and reflection of light. Both reflectors and diffusers can be made of fabric, plastic, paper, foam, or metal.

While reflectors bounce light onto the subject and fill in highlights and shadows, diffusers soften and distribute light, reduces harsh contrasts and creates more illumination. Both are necessary when taking outdoor pictures.

  • How to position and use diffusers to create dramatic light: To use a diffuser to create dramatic light, place the diffusers between the light source and the subject. This will block the light, scattering some of them and thus creating a more focused light. Colored and black diffusers are ideal as they absorb or alter the light color.
  • How to position and use reflectors to create soft light: To produce soft light with reflectors, place the reflector close to the subject and another close to the main light source. This ensures the reflector catches and redirects the light to the subject while filling in the shadows and creating a softer effect. White or silver reflectors are ideal as they redirect light without changing the subject's color.

Tips for Shooting in Harsh Sunlight

There's every chance you will miss the golden hour and have to settle for harsh lighting now and then. While we don't have control over the weather, you can learn to use the harsh light to your advantage. Here are some expert tips for shooting portraits in harsh sunlight:

  • Use the sun as a backlight: Positioning the subject away from the sun will keep the shadows away from the subject's face and prevent the subject from squinting, enabling you to capture a more natural emotion. Besides, using the sun as a backlight gives a nice skin tone that makes the image look more natural.
  • Find a Shade: Locate a nice shade somewhere, such as buildings, trees, cars, etc. If you can't find a shade, then create one yourself. For instance, if you are shooting on a beach, you could use palm trees or any object to create shade.
  • Take pictures from a different angle:  Try taking the picture from a different angle and at various levels, either above or below eye level. Photographing from different angles helps you determine how light and shadow affect your subject and thus enables you to choose the best angle for the best shot.

Post-Processing Techniques for Enhancing Harsh Sunlight Portraits

While harsh sunlight can produce imperfect pictures, several post-processing techniques can enhance portraits in bright sunlight. They include:

  • Adjust exposure: Shutter speed, ISO, and aperture control the amount of light entering the camera. Adjusting the exposure will enable you to control the amount of light, thus creating pictures devoid of harsh shadows. Adjust the shutter speed to enable it to open faster. The faster the shutter speed, the less sunlight enters the camera. A camera with low ISO means less sensitivity to light, which helps in harsh light conditions.
  • Widen your aperture: Harsh sunlight creates dramatic shadows on the subject and projects all the details, including blemishes and pores. One way to reduce overly bright sunlight is to soften the light. This can be done by widening the aperture; aim to shoot between f/1.2 and f/2.5 for portraits. In doing this, ensure to take it slow and easy; otherwise, maintaining a sharp focus while shooting will be difficult.
  • Color balance: Color balancing is another post-processing technique that can help enhance harsh sunlight portraits. It involves correctly adjusting the intensities of primary and neutral colors so that the image becomes better and more colorful. However, most photographers opt for white balance.


Shooting in harsh sunlight can be quite challenging for anyone to take on, whether professionals or amateurs. Fortunately, there are many tips that can help you get it right. The important point is to be versatile and prepared for anything.

Also, positioning the subject right can make a great difference. Using the right gear, such as a reflector and diffuser, will give you more control over the light.

Haven showed you how it's done, it’s time to go out there and take those brilliant shots, not minding the harsh sunlight!

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