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!