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As most of us know, the golden hours for photography are around sunrise and sunset, when the light is soft, golden and easy to work with. However, sometimes it’s not possible to shoot a subject in these hours, you may be forced to shoot at what is arguably the worse time of day for photography – noon. So how can we control the midday sun and what sort of things can we shoot?
Dealing With Shadows
The biggest problem with the midday sun is the harsh shadows it produces. The advent of digital has given us some measure of control over that and one technique that can help here is shooting to the right, something we discussed a few months ago. Because we are trying to gain the highest dynamic range, we shoot to the right to maximize, but not blow the highlights. This will give us more control over the shadow areas, using a good image editor, you can use the levels or curves function to lift some detail into the shadows without introducing too much noise.
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Don't Forget About Filters
Another useful technique is to use a polarizing filter. A lot of harshness comes not just from the shadow, highlight contrast but also from the intense reflections, even on seemingly non reflective surfaces. A polarizer will will help cut down those reflections. You may not be aware, that one of the things polarizers are extremely useful for is shooting woodlands and trees. Foliage is extremely reflective and using a polarizer can return the saturation to the greenery in your shots.
Using polarizers at midday can also give us that deep blue sky that makes, for example, some travel images look so impressive. The very best days are when there are a few fluffy clouds in the sky to add some contrast. To maximize the effect of the polarizer on the sky use it at approximately 90 degrees to the sun and take extreme care when using it on a wide angle lens, to much polarization can make the sky look uneven or even turn it black.
If you are lucky enough to live close to a beach, noon can be a great time to shoot. The combination of high sun with a polarizer, will simultaneously intensify the blue of the ocean, reduces the reflections from nearby trees and give the sky that great blue punch.
Get Your Flash On!
One of the hardest things to shoot at midday is people, but even this can be overcome with the use of fill-in flash. Now when I say fill in flash I am talking about using a proper flashgun mounted to the top of your camera or controlled wirelessly off camera. Your pop up flash will not really cut it for this type of shoot.
Using your flash creatively you can even shoot directly into the sun, using your subject as a shield to prevent flare. By underexposing the background by one stop, you can create great looking portraits with a dark saturated background
Clouds and White Balance Problems?
Of course, high noon does not necessarily mean sunny – an overcast day at noon can present its own set of problems. One of those can be the camera’s color meter over-correcting the white balance for a scene, making an image seem far too blue. In these cases the two simplest solutions are to either to manually set your camera’s white balance, or set it to cloudy, or, to use RAW and correct the white balance in post production.
Choose Your Subjects Wisely
Close ups and textures are one of the nest things to shoot during the noontime. Look for textures that are at an angle to the sun, giving deep shadows to get a three dimensional feel to the image. Shadows can also be used as compositional tools by leading your eye to the subject matter.
Flowers, plants and other macro subject can also be tackled at noon, the sun giving great punch and vibrancy to the colors and fill in flash does not have to be restricted to portraits, you can use it on close up subjects, although you may find you need to take the flash off camera to use it effectively.
So next time you find yourself facing a great subject at midday, all is not lost. As photographers our job is to control the light and it is our skill in doing that, that creates great photos, be that at dawn, dusk or high noon.
Jason Row is a British born travel photographer now living in Ukraine. You can follow him on Facebook or visit his site, The Odessa Files. He also maintains a blog chronicling his exploits as an Expat in the former Soviet Union