General wisdom has it that photographic activities should rest around noon, at least if the sky is not overcast. The sun is very high up in the sky, light is steep, colors fade. Eye sockets, nose and mouth cast shadows in faces. So most people shy away from working at that time. In German language there is even a wisecrack-saying: “Von elf bis drei hat der Fotograf frei” (from eleven to three the photographer’s free – I invented that translation and to my knowledge there is no similar line in English).
But is it really true that pictures shot at that time are necessarily bad?
The challenge with light and photos at high noon
Let’s look first at what makes the light so difficult to handle:
- Light direction: it comes from high up, in the tropics it might even come right from above.
- Light quality: the blueish light makes colors often fade and the whole world looks washed out.
- Contrasts: harsh noon light makes high contrasts – blown out highlights and deep shadows.
These are all valid issues. Yet I urge you to take pictures at noon – and that includes people photography. Actually I think that some pictures should be taken especially then and not at another daytime: because some of the issues mentioned above can be dealt with, and some are actually a boon for certain types of pictures. And that is basically already the secret: at high noon shoot the pictures that look good being shot at that time. In a way I am saying: there is no bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.
What type of picture can or should be taken at noon?
Look at the header picture of this article – my take on the “follow-me” thing. It was shot right at high noon in the tropics as you can see from the light on arms and shoulders. And it works I think. Why is that?
- The light direction is perfect for that picture. It makes the water of the sea really transparent whereas it would look grey and dull in the evening light. The light direction does not bother the face of the model as she is looking away. This picture would look not as good had it been taken at another time of day.
- The light quality is controlled by using a polarizing filter which takes out much of ambient reflections from air and water, the rest is done in raw development.
- Contrasts are well under control as the sand on the beach acts like a reflector. No additional light needed to be added to the photo.
Situations in which high noon photography can work well
Now obviously this is only one picture and you might wonder if there are other situations in which noon light may actually beneficial to an image. Here are a few suggestions:
- underwater pictures,
- pictures in the woods – actually: noon may be the only time in which you can work there as light coming low in may be completely blocked by the trees,
- everything with bodies of water: the beach of an ocean, a lake, rivers etc.,
- all pictures that require you not to shoot at 90° to the sun – aka pictures with unusual perspectives. What I mean is this: if you take your shot from a high up or low down perspective the relative position of the sun – your primary light source – to your subject changes. And you are into a whole different game.
Some more ideas and tips
And of course even with “normal” pictures there are technical tricks and thingythings you can do to take a good picture at high noon. Some of them are:
- Simply place your model in the shade and – if needed – use a flash or reflector to control the light absolutely as you need it.
- Make your own shade by using a sun swatter or similar.
- Even in the direct noon sunlight a combination of reflector and polar filter does miracles.
- If everything else fails try your luck with a fill flash.
Can you think of more situations where noon light works well for pictures? Or do you have more tricks up your sleeve to control the difficult aspects of such light? Please let me know!
The title image can be licensed for any use royalty free at Fotolia: woman dragging man to beach in tropical summer vacation, shot on Gili Trawangan, Indonesia.