Hey, hey! I’m Kate Kanters (@kate.t.kanters). I’m a hobbyist photographer/ mom-parrazi of my four kids, living in the burbs outside of Milwaukee, WI. The majority of my subject matter is my children, though as they’ve gotten older and are all in school full-time, I’ve had to dabble in other genres, including still-life macro, landscape, and a little street photography. I’m also a Lensbaby Ambassador, and have truly fallen in love with the magical effects that these artistic lenses add to my images.
My photography journey began when my kids were much younger. I wasn’t quite drowning in babyhood anymore, and I had long ago quit my job as an elementary school teacher. I wanted to find something just for myself that didn't include changing diapers, potty training, or feeding the little people who I cared for all day long. Aside from an old film camera from high school, my first “real” camera was a Canon Rebel XTI. It was a few years before I actually knew how to really use it and shoot in manual mode. I remember taking pictures and just randomly pressing buttons until I got something acceptable. I finally decided to take an online course on how to shoot in manual and poured over any tutorial I could find. I’m still learning everyday and love all the inspiration that P52 Clicks gives me through the lessons and artists they share.
Tips for Shooting in Full Sun
Full sun doesn't mean you have to shoot in direct, harsh light at noon. It simply refers to not shooting during an overcast, cloudy day, or in low light situations. So many of us, myself included, prefer to shoot during the golden hour, when the light is magical and the colors are rich and bold. Shooting in full sun, out in the wide open, can sometimes have the unsatisfactory effect of muting the colors in our frame. All that light can make our images look washed out, produce harsh shadows, and result in squinty eyes- all things that can make our work look unpolished and lacking.
Another complicating factor is our sensitivity to bright light. It wasn't until I had four blonde haired, blue eyed children that I learned people with blue eyes are much more sensitive to light. I’ve had to find ways to make shooting my kids in full sun work, or I’d miss documenting so many memories of their childhood. And that is why I do this, afterall. Pictures help me freeze a moment in time, and so a little (or a lot!) of sun shouldn’t stop me! Here are a handful of things that I do to help make it work!
1. Look for open shade
If I absolutely cannot avoid shooting in full sun, there are definitely some strategies I use to make it more manageable and that still allow me to create images that I’m happy with. If you’re someplace where there’s open shade (like a line of trees or a building that casts a shadow), try moving your subject to that area. The light will be more diffused, allowing you to avoid hot spots (blown highlights), harsh shadows under the eyes and nose, and will be much easier to edit! It will also help prevent your subject from having to squint and your overall colors will be richer.
In the image of my daughter in her swimsuit, walking in the backyard, you can see the areas in the background (and not included in my frame, but the areas behind where I was standing.) I intentionally had my daughter walk so that she was positioned in the more shaded areas.
I used the same strategy in the image of my daughter in the lake with the floatie. You can actually see the line in the water where the shaded area is, and behind her, where the sun is openly hitting the water. I sat in the sand, with my settings set and ready to go, waiting for the moment when she moved into this exact spot. Because this is shot with a Lensbaby, which is a manual lens, I made sure to have my focus set on the area I was waiting for her to walk into, because I knew if I wasn't ready, I’d miss the moment.
2. Accessories are your friend . . . when you have no option but to shoot in full sun and there is no open shade anywhere to be found (like at the beach!), you can have your subject wear a hat or sunglasses. The hat will offer some shade to your subject’s face, helping to prevent the dreaded squints. Sunglasses take it a step further and completely cover the eyes, and sometimes you can even capture a cool reflection in the lenses! I personally love the whimsy that sunglasses can add to your story. I actually have an entire basket of different sunglasses for my kids- different themed ones like hearts, stars, patriotic, rainbows, etc. I also have them in a variety of colors to give an extra oomph to my images when applying color theory. Dollar Tree, The Dollar Spot at Target, and Amazon are some great places to find fun shades.
In the image of my daughter sitting on the steps, we were in Florida walking on a sidewalk right around noon. The sun was straight overhead and there was no shade anywhere. Luckily, the sunglasses were key to not having a portrait of her with her eyes tightly squeezed shut to block the light.
In the photo of my daughter on the chaise lounge, I made sure to set up the chair in the shade of my house and underneath a tree (you can actually see the reflection of the tree in the sunglasses.) It was late morning when I took this, so the sun was in the front side of my house. It was still plenty bright outside, but I was able to make this shot work because of where I placed my subject and because of those adorable sunglasses. Laying on her back, facing up at the sky, it would’ve been really tricky to get a shot with her eyes open in that position.
3. Go faceless (or almost faceless)
Another great way to avoid either squinty or raccoon eyes (harsh shadows) is to avoid taking a shot of your subject’s face altogether.
When we were on vacation, my son was gleefully running across the sand trying to scare birds off that kept settling near the water’s edge. As he was running away from me towards the birds, the perfect, full sun scenario presented itself. Because I was photographing his back (and he had on a hat, nonetheless), I didn’t have to worry about any awkward facial expressions created by the sun hitting him straight in the face.
Yet another way to shoot creatively without having to worry about harsh shadows, squinty eyes, and kids complaining that it's too bright is to creatively crop your shot. Perhaps you're walking through a meadow of flowers or at the playground on a hot summer day. A close-up of their hand picking a flower or hands gripping the monkey bars tells an amazing story.
In the photo of my daughter eating an ice cream cone, I chose to crop the image so that her eyes were not included. She was standing in a shady spot in our yard, but this particular kid also has very deep set eyes. Unless it works for my shot to tip her face up towards the sun, there are almost always unpleasant dark shadows around her eyes. Plus, the focus of this shot was the ice cream cone and her hair braids, so it worked for me to crop it this way.
4. Eyes Wide Shut
Have your subject close their eyes for a peaceful, dreamy vibe… I use this one in posed shots when my kids have been especially whiny about it being too bright outside or when I’ve neglected to bring along sunglasses or hats and there's no open shade to help me. Or, let's face it, sometimes you find a beautiful spot and absolutely cannot bother with any of those other tips to help your subject look his or her best. I often do this with my own kids because I find them to be especially sensitive to light.
Growing up, my entire family had brown eyes, but my four kids were all born with blue eyes. I learned, through parenthood and reassurances from our pediatrician, that people with a paler eye color experience more sensitivity to light. I don't know the science behind it, but I'd have to say it's true in my experience! So, if I really have a specific shot in mind and all other rescue attempts have failed, I’ll just prompt them to gently close their eyes like they are sleeping. My youngest still struggles with this sometimes, so I have to demonstrate what softly closing your eyes looks like vs. tightly closing them. This is a frequent scenario with my seven year old who really struggles with posing when I have a very specific look I’m trying to achieve.
In the photo of my daughter in the yellow forsythia, it was a generally overcast day. I knew I wanted to get a photo of her near this bush because it was so full of blooms. The only time we had to do it was when the sun had finally popped out from behind clouds. We tried and tried with her eyes open (unfortunately there was no shade here with where the direction of the sun was in the sky at this time), but she just kept blinking and rubbing her eyes. I gave up on the vision I had for this shot, and instead we did it with her eyes closed. I still love how it turned out, though!
If you’re really set on having your subject’s eyes open for your shot, one trick I’ve learned with my own kids (remember, super sensitive to light), is to have them first positioned how you want them and tell them they can keep their eyes closed. Then with your camera settings exactly as you want them, on the count of three, say “Open your eyes.” Be ready to shoot with your drive mode set to “high speed continuous” for that half second before they start blinking and rubbing their eyes. It works, trust me. It may take more than one attempt to get the perfect shot, but at least your subject will be more comfortable and you’ll be ready for them.
I used this exact strategy in the shot of my daughter taken in front of the burning bush. This was taken last fall, and she was positioned out in the open, with no shade, facing the direction of the sun. Even though it was taken a little later in the day, there was no cloud cover. You can see it highlighting her face. She kept complaining that the light was making her eyes water, but I really wanted to capture the catchlights in her eyes. So, we used the trick I described above, and bam! It was the exact shot I was looking for.
5. A Gift from Above
Another strategy for shooting in full sun is to shoot from above…. As long as your subject is not laying on his/her back, you can avoid all the yucky stuff we’ve been talking about, where you’d maybe need to use hats or sunglasses. This could also fit in the same category as faceless.
The photo of my kids playing in the kiddie pool was taken with my DJI Mavic Mini drone. I positioned the pool so I could include some shadows from the tree branches to frame it. And I really only needed to worry about not blowing out all the white in the pool because none of their faces are visible. I added some vibrancy in post processing, but other than that, it was a really easy image to edit.
You certainly don’t have to have a drone to shoot from above. Try standing directly over your subject, using a wide enough lens to capture more of the scene and so that there aren't any weird limb chops . You can also try shooting from somewhere higher up, like a ladder, a window, or the top of a playset.
6. Shoot with the sun behind your subject.
This tip is pretty self-explanatory. You may have to move around a bit to work with the flare or haze you might get, depending upon the time of day you’re shooting. To avoid blown highlights, I may underexpose a bit, and then use a radial filter in LR to increase exposure on my subject’s face, decrease shadows, as well as increase the orange luminance in the HSL slider.
In this image, you can see the light streaming behind my daughter. I wanted to avoid shadows on her face from the hat and also because the image was backlit, so I made sure to have her aim her eyes up to the sky.
7. Have fun with shadows
Full sun and harsh light aren't all bad news bears. They can help you create some really dramatic shots when you look for interesting shadows.
In the photo at my oldest daughter’s track meet, all of the parents were lined up against the railing in the stands. I kept noticing the cool shadows our bodies made on the track below us. I chose to place focus on the shadows rather than the runner for two reasons. First, because I loved how including them in my image enhanced the story. And second, because the runner in this specific image was not my daughter, and therefore wasn’t important to me.
In the shot with the hot air balloons, there was no cloud cover, no open shade, just glorious midday sun everywhere. The sun was behind me, and I wanted to position myself to include the shadows of the spectators, who were mostly out of my frame. There were no faces to worry about. I really liked how these shadows added to the story, and their contrast against the vibrancy of the balloons.
8. Focus on an object in the foreground, instead of your actual human subject.
It will enhance the story you are telling, and you don't have to worry so much about the squints, unpleasant shadows, etc.
In this shot, I focused on the chalk my son was using while coloring the driveway, rather than my son coloring. My aperture was wide open to ensure that he would be out of focus, making it clear where I wanted to draw the viewer’s eye.
One issue I often run into with images shot in full sun is post processing. Sometimes the colors may seem washed out and lacking overall contrast and vibrancy. In Lightroom, I often find that sliding the dehaze button to the right helps bring back some of that richness. I will also add more contrast and vibrancy, while decreasing shadows and highlights. I often have to decrease yellow and oranges depending upon the temperature of the light. And, if all the green grass of summer is giving you terrible color casts, and you feel like you just can't quite get the skin as accurate as you’d like, you’ll find that converting your image to black and white can be a beautiful solution.
If you've ever taken a photo in the middle of the day when the sun is out, you may have noticed your colors look a bit washed out or lack in contrast. Early on in my photography journey, I went out into my garden to capture some pretty yellow blooms. I had my daughter reach into the frame to pick the flowers and I began snapping away. The idea I had in my head was not working out, though. When I looked down at my camera and cycled through my images, I couldn’t figure out why everything looked so dull. I tried again from different positions and angles, but the results were pretty much the same. I found I had to underexpose my images by either increasing my shutter speed or closing down my aperture a little more than I typically do (my ISO was already as low as it could go.) If you’re bummed to close down your aperture because you love the creamy bokeh that a low aperture gives you, just move your subject further away from the background and you can still have some of that! When you’re ready to edit your images, you may find that decreasing the exposure, increasing the contrast, and upping the vibrancy and blacks will help bring some of that richness back to your images that the sun has washed out.
I almost always expose for my subject’s face, if that is the most important part of my image. I know I can usually fix underexposed areas in post processing, but areas that are blown out cannot be brought back. Make sure to turn on your camera’s “blinkies” so that it alerts you to any blown highlights when shooting.
Most importantly, focus on capturing the moment. I'd rather have a less than perfect image than no image at all because I missed it futzing around with settings.
Hopefully these tips have you embracing shooting in full sun. Summer is a short season where I live, so I have to take advantage of capturing my kids when the moment strikes.