What to Photograph In Harsh Afternoon Lighting

The middle of the afternoon brings lunch breaks, afternoon naps, and harsh lighting.  Two of the three of those are worth celebrating.  Depending on where you live, you don’t have to put the camera away when the sun is high above, there are still times and places you can photograph in the middle of the afternoon.

0614_untitled_034Forests are a great place to photograph in bright sunlight because the tree canopy softens the light.


Have you ever wondered what the difference between a forest and the woods is?  The spelling!  Really, they can be used interchangeably and often are.  However, in this part of the United States (North East) we typically refer to a small body of trees (think backyard) as woods and a larger (wilder?) body of trees as a forest.  For our purposes here we will be using them interchangeably…  Or I could make a new word and call it Foroods?  Or Woodest?  Or not.

The forest is a great place to photograph, it’s full of wonder and magical little creatures (not literally, Harry Potter).  The great thing about photographing in the woods is that you’ll likely be able to capture images of places that most of your viewers have never ever seen.  With the advent of super highways and the Playstation fewer and fewer people are venturing off the beaten (or paved) path so photographs of the forest can look mysterious and interesting to those of us less inclined to explore them ourselves.

Helpful Tips

  • Bring a tripod – the trees will block most of the harsh lighting but that means you may need a slower shutter speed.
  • Bring Bug Spray – Don’t want you getting West Nile from a mosquito.
  • Look for leading lines and framing, photographing in the woods can be difficult because of the multitude of distracting elements (branches, weeds, logs, etc.) and you’ll need to compose to emphasize your subject otherwise it’s just a photograph of some trees.
  • Use A Circular Polarizer – Using this will eliminate a lot of the reflections on leafs as well as in water, you’d be amazed at the difference this small tool can make.

 0814_untitled_052Shooting indoors is an obvious but, in my opinion, a more difficult choice.


Shooting indoors seems like a great alternative, and it certainly can be, but shooting indoors requires a good eye for composition.  You can use the man-made geometry and recurring shapes to strengthen the composition of your indoor photographs.


Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh

Try to come up with unique ways in which to capture the indoor scene to catch viewers interest.  Simply taking a snap shot of interesting architecture doesn’t normally cut it.  Look for leading lines or framing.

Personally, I enjoy photographing people indoors.  You can find interesting photographs in museums, conservatories, hotels, churches, and indoor markets (among many others).

DSCF1713Chelsea Market, NYC

Helpful Tips

  • Consider your timing, certain places are less busy at certain times of the day…  Whether you want the human element in your photographs or not will determine the time you should visit.
  • If you’re visiting a museum or other landmark be sure to check their policy on photography.  Some places won’t allow a tripod without a permit and some will ban photography all together.
  • Tripod.  Tripod.  Tripod.  Unless your camera can shoot at ISO 6400 and you have a steady hand.
  • I don’t use a flash.  If you do you can get away without the tripod but you may get booted from most museums and irritate other people enjoying the same space as you.

Street Photography

Street Photography and most types of travel photography can be done in any type of light (cityscape shots are best if they are done during the golden or blue hour).


High Line, NYC

If you are familiar with your camera and lens even the harshest light can be used to your advantage.  The photograph above looks faded and washed out, similar to many of the filters people pay big bucks for, and was achieved by simply placing the harsh sun light strategically at the top of the frame.



Using shadows to strengthen your images is a sign that you’ve mastered natural lighting.  Leave your flash at home and look for scenes where light and dark have a sharp contrast and you may find a great shot.  The alternative to this is setting up near a street lamp at night and waiting for an interesting subject to walk into the light.

There is no need to put your camera away when the light isn’t ideal…  In fact, I would argue that the light is always ideal, it’s what you make of it.

Where or what do you like to photograph when the sun is high in the sky?  Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.  Be sure to head over to PhotolisticLife’s Flickr page and share your photos with us there.

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