How To Make The Most Of Bright Light and Take Photographs in the Middle the of the Day

Sunny Boat Ride Inle Lake, Myanmar during a Chiang Mai Custom Photo Workshop
Camera: Nikon D800, Lens: 50mm, Settings: f11, 1/500 sec, ISO 400

Mid Day Madness

Kevin Landwer-Johan
Kevin Landwer-Johan

Many photographers avoid going out to make photographs in the middle of the day.

When the sun is high in the sky, the light is harsh and the shadows are strong. It certainly can be more challenging to make good pictures in these conditions, but it’s not impossible.

Here are some tips for how to take better photographs in the middle of the day.

Sometimes we have limitations and the middle of the day may be the only time we have to photograph a particular location.

While traveling sometimes you can’t return to the same location when the light is more friendly. There’s no option than to make photographs in the middle of the day. Recently on our travels in Myanmar, we worked within these restrictions at Inle Lake.

Inle Lake is a terrific location for photographers. I was happy to see the sun bright in the sky. The previous time I had been there (back in 2004) it had rained continuously for two days. We made the most of the morning and evenings and produced some very pleasing photographs of the fishermen in the best light of the day. During the hot part of the day, we were not content to sit at the hotel and set out to make the best of it.

photographs in the middle of the day cow and pagodas
Camera: Nikon D800, Lens: 35mm, Settings: f7.1, 1/320 sec, ISO 100

Avoiding The Tourist Crowds and Still Take Photographs in the Middle of the Day

The lake and it’s many small village islands are set up for tourism and have all manner of displays of local craftsmanship. We did photograph some of this, but it’s very staged and crowded with tourists. They often  get in the way of a good picture. Dodging the tourists and braving the hard light, we were able to find a few good locations to take photographs in the middle of the day.

Think About Post-Processing

Seeing a cow tethered amongst some pagoda ruins provided me with a good opportunity. I set about creating a series of high contrast pictures. Knowing the limitations of my camera helps when working in high contrast conditions. When I am working I have a good feel for how much I will be able to manipulate my photos when I post-process them. This is something good to be aware of when taking photos. Visualizing the result, knowing how you will want to adjust the image later, will help you to make the best exposures.

When photographing the cow and pagodas I had in mind to push the contrast levels in post-processing. Doing this would add to the drama. At some angles, when the sun was behind me and the cow and pagodas were well lit, I aimed to get an exposure that would give me a balanced result. With other angles, when the light was from the side or my subjects were in the shade, I opted to make my exposure so the highlights were well rendered. This meant the shadow areas would fall into darkness. While I was making these pictures I was also thinking in black and white.

Once we were back on the boat I chose to make the most of the bright colors to take some more photographs in the middle of the day. The sun was high and off to one side, so the shadows were minimal. I found the combination of colors pleasing. Having a small flock of gulls enjoying some bread we were throwing them made some great additional ‘props’.

Cow and chedis in Myanmar photographs in the middle of the day
Camera: Nikon D800, Lens: 35mm, Settings: f7.1, 1/250 sec, ISO 100

Making The Most of It

Reflections are strongest when the light is bright. Finding a colorfully painted house made a nice subject to photograph. Waiting for other boats to pass and the water to calm gave us a nice sharp mirror image in the water.

Blue house and reflection at Inle lake, Myanmar photographs in the middle of the day
Camera: Nikon D800, Lens: 35mm, Settings: f8, 1/640 sec, ISO 400

For this image of the pagoda and temple, I found an angle, where the white and gold building is mainly shade and the pagoda, is nicely lit from the side. I often look for alternative angles or subjects to enhance a temple shot (living in Asia they get a bit samey after a while.) So I used the blue fabric awning that was blowing in the breeze as a foreground. The Burmese text printed on it provides a sense of location as well as adding extra interest in my composition.

Temple and flag on Inle lake © Kevin Landwer-Johan
Camera: Nikon D800, Lens: 35mm, Settings: f10, 1/500 sec, ISO 400

By this time I was sweating buckets, it’s not just the harsh light that is challenging in the middle of the day!

These are not the best photos from the short few days we spent on the lake. But, as I said, we were not content to sit out the heat and hard light in our hotel room. Any time you are faced with having no option but to take photos in the brightness of the middle of the day, treat it as a challenge and time to experiment. Both with how you make your exposure and compositions and also to push your post-processing skills to new heights.

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