Chiang Mai Photo Workshops

How To Make The Most Of Bright Light In The Middle Of The Day

Mid Day Madness

Many photographers avoid going out to make photographs in the middle of the day when the sun is high in the sky, the light is harsh and the shadows are strong. It certainly can be more challenging to make good pictures in these conditions, but it’s not impossible. Sometimes we have limitations and the middle of the day may be the only time we have to shoot in a particular location. While traveling and we know we will not be able to return to the same location in the morning or evening, at the times the light is more friendly, there’s no option than to make photographs in bright sunshine. Recently on our travels in Myanmar we worked within these restrictions at Inle Lake.

Three men fishing on Inle Lake, Myanmar posing for photographsInle Lake is a terrific location for photographers. I was happy to see the sun bright in the sky as the previous time I had been there (back in 2004) it had rained continuously for two days. We made the most of the morning and evening there and produced some very pleasing photographs of the fishermen in the best light of the day. During the hot part of the day it’s extremely bright out on the lake, however, we were not content to sit at the hotel and set out to make the best of it.Cow and pagodas in Myanmar

The lake and it’s many small village islands are set up for tourism and have all manner of displays of local craftsmanship. We did photograph some of this, but it’s very staged and crowded with tourists who love to get in the way of a good picture. Dodging the tourists and braving the hard light, we were able to find a few good locations to photograph.

Seeing a cow tethered amongst some pagoda ruins provided me with a good opportunity to create a number of high contrast pictures. Knowing the limitations of my camera helps when working in high contrast conditions. When I am working I have a good feel for how much I will be able to carefully manipulate my photos when I post process them, and this is something good to be aware of when making photos. Visualizing the end result, knowing how you will want to adjust the image later will help you to make the best exposures.

When photographing the cow and pagodas I had in mind to really push the contrast levels in post processing which would add to the drama. At some angles, when the sun was behind me and the cow and pagodas were well lit, I aimed to get an exposure that would give me a balanced result. With other angles, when the light was from the side or my subjects were in the shade, I opted to make my exposure so the highlights were well rendered and the shadow areas would fall into darkness. While I was making these pictures I was also thinking in black and white.

Once we were back on the boat I chose to make the most of the bright colors. The sun was high and off to one side, so the shadows were minimal and I found the combination of colors pleasing. Having a small flock of gulls enjoying some bread we were throwing them made some great additional ‘props’.

Reflections are strongest when the light is bright and finding a colorfully painted house made a nice subject to photograph. Waiting for other boats to pass and the water to calm gave us a nice sharp mirror image in the water.

Cow and pagodas in MyanmarFor this image of the pagoda and temple I found and angle, where the white and gold building is mainly shade and the pagoda, is nicely lit from the side. I often look for alternative angle or subject to enhance a temple shot (living in Asia they get a bit samey after a while,) so I used the blue fabric awning that was blowing in the breeze as a foreground and main focus of my image. The Burmese text printed on it provides a sense of location as well as adding extra interest in my composition.

By this time I was sweating buckets, it’s not just the harsh light that is challenging in the middle of the day!

These are not the best shots from the short few days we spent on the lake, but, as I said, we were not content to sit out the heat and hard light in our hotel room. Any time you are faced with having no option but to make photos in the brightness of the middle of the day, treat it as a challenge and time to experiment – both with how you make your exposure and compositions and also to push your post processing skills to new heights.

Cow and pagaodas in Myanmar

Blue Pole house on Inle Lake, Myanmar

temple and pagoda, Inle Lake, Myanmar

Riding in a boat on Inle Lake, Myanmar

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