As a landscape photographer, many things are out of your control when you go out to shoot.
You can research your locations and make plans to see certain sites.
You may take the week off work to travel to far away destinations, only having one day at each spot to get the photos you want.
So what happens if the weather doesn’t cooperate with you and your photography dreams?
In this post I talk about weather and how you can maximize whatever is happening outside –> 5 Tips for Using Weather to Create Amazing Photography.
As part of that post, I discuss sunny days and how they can affect your photography. Today, I want to expand on that point and go much deeper.
When you are starting out, you think that a sunny day must be the perfect day to take pictures. Clear and bright. Sounds great, right?
Because a clear, sunny day is so bright, the sun tends to wash out details and color. They aren’t as vibrant as your eye sees them because they are kinda overexposed, due to the sun.
At noon, the sun is super bright and harsh, which makes it hard to get an evenly lit photo. Shadows are deep and highlights are easily blown out. It makes for a tricky situation.
But have no fear! I have lots of tips to help you maximize your shooting time, even on a clear, sunny day.
After all, you can’t plan 6 months in advance for the weather when you are buying your plane ticket to your dream location. You can get a general time of year, and then after that it’s all a toss up.
15 Sunny Day Landscape Photography Tips to Maximize Shooting Time
Go at sunrise or sunset
So I’ll start with the most obvious and go from there. If you can, shoot at sunrise or sunset. This is true for any weather, but especially when the day is clear and sunny.
Shooting at these golden hours will allow you to have amazing light, when the sun is low on the horizon and doesn’t cast harsh shadows.
It’s totally dreamy no matter what kind of outdoor photography you are doing.
Sunny 16 rule
There is a fairly well known rule in photography called the Sunny 16 rule.
The rule states: On a clear, sunny day, at an aperture of F/16, you will get a proper exposure if you use a shutter speed that’s the inverse of the ISO you’re using.
Who made the rule? I have no idea. Do I use it often? Not really. But it helps you get a good start when shooting in manual mode on a sunny day.
Let me give you an example to make it easier. On a sunny day, if you set your aperture to F/16 and ISO set to 100, to correctly expose your image the shutter speed needs to be set to 1/100 (the inverse of the ISO number).
So start there and adjust as needed for proper exposure.
This is especially true with portrait photography, but it works with the details of landscape photography.
Obviously, you can’t put a mountain under open shade on a clear day.
But you can get detail shots of flowers, wildlife, small rock formations, etc in the shade of trees or deep in the forest.
This works really well with macro photography, because you only need a little shade to capture great details.
I love a good sunburst in landscape photography, and a sunny day is the perfect day to grab one. Here are a few tips to get a good one:
- Hike up your shutter speed to f/16 or so to catch the sunburst.
- Shoot towards the sun with a solid object covering the sun, where it just peeks out behind something.
- Minimize sun flare by using a lens hood or covering the top of your lens with your hand.
- If flare is still a problem, take a composite shot (using bracketing) to take one photo with the sunburst and one with your finger blocking the sun. Stitch them together to eliminate flare.
Don’t show sky in the photos
Not every landscape photo needs to have an amazing sky. If it is too sunny and your sky is washed out, just crop it out of the shot (in camera) or put it at the top third line to minimize it’s effect.
Shooting deep in the woods is great on a sunny day because you don’t see the sky at all and the bright light helps illuminate the trees for a beautiful feel.
Use a ND filter
An ND (Neutral Density) filter is a piece of plastic you put on the front of your lens to block the light coming in. On bright days, they can help you get a more even, less blown out exposure.
There are two types of ND filters: full and graduated.
A full ND filter will make your whole photo darker, which is great if your whole photo is too bright. This might be useful if you want to use a wide open aperture and there is too much light.
A graduated ND filter will make part of your photo darker because it starts dark at one end and goes gradually lighter throughout the frame. This might be useful if you just want to darken the sky but keep what’s below the horizon the same.
Choose the filter that fits your lens. You need one for each size of lens you use for landscape photos.
When it is super sunny outside, it is easy to overexpose your photos. By overexpose, I mean too bright with many highlights blown. Here are some tips to help get the right exposure:
- Turn on the highlight blinkies on your LCD screen, so they will flash when you have blown out highlights.
- Use your histogram to see your exposure (see this point below).
- Use your light metering to make sure your photo isn’t overexposed.
- Use a higher shutter speed and/or stop down your aperture to let in less light.
- Make sure your ISO is at the lowest it can go.
Don’t shoot at noon
Like I said in the first point, the midday sun is going to be the brightest and harshest. So avoid this time at all costs. This is pretty self explanatory.
Shoot stopped down
I touched on this above, but I wanted to discuss this a little more.
Shooting stopped down means to use a higher aperture number. This is great because many landscape photos, where you want to get everything in focus, require a bigger depth of field.
I wouldn’t recommend going to the highest aperture available, because that can lead to a not so clear image. But if you can go up to f/16 or f/18, you will cut out a lot of light from your photo.
To find out more about aperture, read this blog post —> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: Aperture Basics.
If feels funny “complaining” about a sunny day when you are on vacation. I mean, isn’t that what we want?
If shooting on a clear, sunny day is causing you problems, put down your big camera and enjoy your vacation. Here are a few things you can do instead:
- Eat lunch
- Take a hike
- Scout locations with your iphone
- Take a nap (so you can shoot sunrise the next day).
- Sightsee or take tours of interesting monuments or buildings where you will be shooting indoors.
- Edit the photos you have already taken.
Use your histogram
Getting the right exposure is tricky on a sunny day because if you just rely on what you see on the back of your camera, your eyes aren’t adjusted properly to see things clearly. The screen is little and the brightness of outside throws everything off.
As I mentioned in a point above, one way to deal with this is to read the histogram on your camera and see if it makes sense.
Are your highlights blown out? Are your blacks clipping?
You want to get as much information in the middle of the histogram as possible so you have more to work with when you edit.
For more information on reading a histogram, read this blog post —>10 Steps to Manual Mode: Histogram Basics.
Shoot in RAW
I shoot RAW 99% of the time, but on sunny day’s you especially need to shoot in RAW. Why? To help fix some of the problems the sun creates when you are editing.
- You can bring up the shadows and even out the exposure easily.
- You can use the graduated filter in Lightroom to darken the sky if needed.
- You can recover some highlights, although if they are totally blown they are gone, even in RAW.
- You can brighten the colors if they seem to be washed out by the sun.
- So much more, I can’t even list all of the ways.
If you want to find out more about shooting in RAW, check out this post —> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: RAW vs. Jpeg.
Sunny days can create harsh shadows and blown highlights. Your camera has a hard time capturing that kind of range in one photo.
That is why it is awesome that we can shoot HDR (High Dynamic Range) photos with our DSLR and some post processing.
Basically, you use bracketing (mentioned above) to take 3 or 5 photos at different exposures. Then you take them into Lightroom and blend them together to make one photo that has a huge light range.
Here is a link to a post by Picture Correct to see how it works —> HDR Photography Basics and How to Get Started.
Shoot with the sun behind you
This is where portrait photography and landscape photography are total opposites.
You don’t want to be between your subject and the sun on a bright, sunny day when you are taking a portrait. The sun would be in their face and they would be squinting.
But for landscapes, you need to have the sun behind you (if possible) so that your subject will be lit as much as possible. Of course, you can’t move mountains, so this only works in certain situations.
Sunny, clear days are great for taking beautiful reflections of mountains in a lake. Blue sky, calm water and your golden.
One problem you might have in this scenario is glare. If you are getting too much glare on the water from the sun, use a polarizing filter to cut through it. This will make for a beautiful reflection and photo.
For more ideas on using reflections in your photography, read this blog post —> 30 Reflection Photography Ideas and Inspiration for Creative Images.
The moral of this story: don’t let a sunny day ruin your photography dreams. Use these tips to make the most of them and you’ll be able to capture some beautiful photos you will be proud to share.
Do you have any tips I may have missed? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!