Shoot Better Photos in Direct Sunlight Using This One Rule

Photo courtesy Scott Robert Lim.
Photo courtesy Scott Robert Lim.

What’s the worst possible lighting situation for photographers? If you’re Scott Robert Lim, it’s mid-day, or, as he so aptly puts it: “Outside at noon! Right? In the bright sun.”

And he’s right — bright overhead light can give your subjects raccoon eyes and cast harsh shadows across your photos. Lucky for you, the ‘Sunny 16 Rule’ makes shooting in the mid-day sun much more manageable.

In his all-things-lighting course, Crazy Stupid Light, Scott teaches the classic mnemonic device, so you can seamlessly learn the necessary f-stop, shutter speed, and ISO settings with which you should shoot — without breaking out the light meter. To learn these skills even deeper, the photography starter kit course will be your best friend.

Move the ISO and shutter speed in tandem from there. “I start in the middle. So if I want to eliminate the ambient light, I can raise my shutter. And if I want to let more ambient light in, I can lower my shutter,” Scott explains.

Shadows also cast an easy reference for your aperture speed. The softer the shadow, the lower the aperture setting. With noontime sun, f/16 is your best starting point.

Scott’s preferred settings:

Softened Shadows =  f/11
Overcast, Slight or No Shadows = f/8
Bright Shade  = f/5.6
Dark Shade = f/4.0
Twilight = f/2.8

Remember, Scott advises, “in the old days, they didn’t have light meters, they didn’t have automatic cameras. [Photographers] would literally have to figure out what that light setting was by looking at the clouds or the sun or whatever.”

Let that hard-earned wisdom from those days be gone determining your settings today. Because, as Scott says, “Back in the old day they were pretty smart. In fact, I think the people living back then were smarter than us.” Let’s use that insight and adjust accordingly from there.

Check out the full Crazy Stupid Light class to learn more invaluable lighting knowledge.

Want to master photography in just 24 hours? Sign up for The Photography Starter Kit for Beginners today to learn everything you need to know to start photographing today. 

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Rachel is the content marketing lead for the CreativeLive Craft Channel. Her side hustle is floral design and her day job is awesome. @ms_gregarious.