Seems like common sense doesn’t it? Use the light of the sun properly expose your photographs. Well that’s all well and good but how exactly do you use that light? Do you put the light behind the subject your photographing? Do you photograph into the sun? Wait, I thought you weren’t supposed to photograph in the middle of the day because it’s not ideal lighting (golden hours)? See, some of it is common sense but let’s talk about some things you can do to utilize the given light a little more creatively than what “common sense” would tell us.
When you’re photographing in the middle of the day there are naturally going to be some pretty harsh reflections that will throw your cameras light meter into some fits. If you’re shooting in one of the auto modes you may want to read up on how to adjust your exposure to compensate for your cameras over or under compensation (maybe by using Automatic Exposure Bracketing). If you are using your camera in manual mode I’d recommend you really check out your LCD screen after each important shot to make sure it’s exposed the way you’d like. If I’m photographing something really important I’ll shoot in RAW and under expose very slightly so I don’t lose any detail (it’s not required to shoot in RAW to get the best photograph, learn more about RAW vs. JPEG).
One of my favorite ways to shoot in any sunlight is to have the sun highlight my subject from behind making it really stick out. The image at the very top of the page was taken on one of those days where the sun was fierce and it made the leaves look like they were on fire. The chain image above was taken on another of those sunny afternoons and the way the sun hit the chain and it’s rust made it really pop. Think of the sun as an off camera flash that is always on or a paint brush that paints light onto your subject. Don’t be afraid to move your feet and check out different angles of what you’d like to photograph and how the angle of the light changes the way it looks through your viewfinder.
What happens if you decide to take a photograph with the sun in it? Will it break your camera? No, Certain cameras will handle it differently, generally the better your camera and lens the less likely you’ll have lens flare (see below picture of the bird feeder, it’s the orange circular lines). Then some lenses will handle the bright light without losing a step (the photo above was taken with the Nikkor 24-85mm). If you plan on taking a picture with the sun in the frame it’s best to use a tree or something to block some of the light like I did above. I feel like I shouldn’t have to tell you this but don’t stare at the sun through your viewfinder unless you hate your retinas, it will burn them.
Just because the sun is crazy bright outside doesn’t mean you can’t spend the day capturing great photographs. The best advice I can give you is to park your car or start your hike where the sun is at your back as you scurry along. That way you get a pretty good view of what is ahead of you without it being washed out by the sun. If you see something interesting take a walk around it and look at it at all different angles with the sun behind, beside, and in front of it. Look for things that look neat with the sun directly behind them, getting lit up or creating a sort of eclipse look. The best part about photographing in the middle of the day in less than ideal lighting is that a lot of people don’t try it. You will likely get some pretty interesting and unique shots that stand out from the bunch. Good luck!