Shooting In Direct Sun

sun flare
The sun shoots a giant X class solar flare at us - by NASA

It would be great if we could schedule every shoot for golden hour or other times when the lighting is most dramatic, but the demands of scheduling don’t always cooperate with our desires as photographers. Sometimes you have to go when conditions are less than optimum and shoot with the helium ion key located 96 million miles from the subject and filtered through a 100 mile water vapor diffuser just where it is in all it’s harsh, sharp-shadowed glory.

No need to be distressed, there are always alternatives if you’re prepared.


It seems obvious but is often overlooked. The best shade for photography shades the subject while still leaving most of the background in daylight. Then you can use a fill flash to evenly bring out the subject, yielding the best of both worlds.

A beach umbrella also works well as portable shade when there are no natural sources.

The idea is to get your subject to lose the sunglasses so they don’t look like a mob boss and not have to squint.


Also called “rags” if you’ve been in the business a long time. The film business is famous for using rows of giant scrims, sometimes called “scrim the planet”.

For photography the standard sizes are 6×6, 8×8 and 12×12 and come in a wide variety of colors, weaves and patterns. Scrim cloth can act as a diffuser or you can get different material and use them like a giant reflector. Most often a scrim will be positioned overhead to diffuse sunlight. Scrims can cover the entire scene, or just part of it and there are even gradient scrims available.

One word of caution when using scrims outside, particularly at the beach, a 12×12 piece of fabric on frame is also called a “sail” in nautical terms and that’s just what you’ll be doing after a gust of wind. Clamp them down tight and weigh the c-stands with sandbags or free weights, even if it’s calm.

Neutral Density Filters

This is one of those things anyone using their DSLRs for video will have in the bag but not every photographer carries.

For photography, I find an ND 0.9 is generally enough to bring full daylight into line. Again, you might need a fill flash and you also might want to add a warm up filter or set your camera’s white balance to “cloudy”.

I use an HD ND filter that has warm up built into it. I know just where I must have dropped it a couple weeks ago, so if you’re walking on the beach in South Florida and find a 72mm ND filter with a warm tint, I’d appreciate getting it back. Thanks!

Tips For Better Golden Hour Shooting

golden hour photo
Golden hour is officially 6 degrees above the horizon to 6 degrees below - By Phil Sangwell

The term “golden hour” is somewhat of a misnomer as the actual time may be somewhat less or more than an hour, depending on where you live. When you’re in the middle of shooting and trying to find the perfect moment, it sometimes seems to fly by in just a few minutes. One thing is for sure, when you really need the shot it will never be long enough.

Golden hour is another one of those areas where video and photography intersect. If you’ve ever been on a movie set late in the day, there will be one person obsessing, “We’re losing the light!” every time shooting stops. That would be the DP, or DOP in the U.K., the person responsible for the videography and camera work and they would be in a hurry to capture as much footage as possible before losing that wonderfully warm late day lighting.

The technical definition of “golden hour” are the times from when the sun is 6 degrees above the horizon, until it is 6 degrees below the horizon. That wonderful reddish gold color comes from sunlight passing through more atmosphere before striking the ground and more of the light in the blue spectrum being scattered, leaving behind reds and gold. Aside from the color temperature, there’s also a difference in the quality of the light. Shadows are less distinct, the lines between colors less obvious.

These days there are some wonderful web sites that will take the guesswork out of golden hour, where ever you happen to live. iPhone and iPad users can also find apps that will pinpoint morning and late day golden hour times where you are. A few minutes research will save a lot of time standing around waiting for the light.

Tips For Golden Hour Shooting

You can maximize your shooting time at the end of the day with a few simple tips.

1) Bring a monopod or tripod – You’re working with fading light and your exposure times will get progressively longer as the light fades. The shutter speed jumps can sneak up on you in rapidly changing lighting conditions.

2) Turn off AWB – Turn off your camera’s Automatic White Balance. As the color temperature of the light around you changes, your camera may be tempted think you’re in a place with incandescent lights and try to color correct the results.

3) Bring an external flash – If you have one, bring it. There are many situations where foreground subjects will be underexposed, or you’ll lose the quality of the background light with a long exposure. Don’t hesitate to try a shorter exposure and fill in with an external flash as appropriate.

4) Consider gels for your flash – If you want to try and match your fill flash to the warmer late day lighting, consider covering the fill flash with a warm up gel.

5) Look for silhouette opportunities – Take advantage of underexposed foreground another way by exposing for the ambient light and silhouette your subject.

There are lots of neat experiments you can try with late day lighting. Plan ahead, shoot fast, and enjoy those golden rays!