Urban Photography in Mid Day Light

The “golden hour” just after sunrise and just before sunset generally offer the best quality of light especially for landscape photography. However these times are not always practical, especially during mid summer when sunrise is very early and sunset is very late.

The mid day sun is often avoided by photographers and more often than not for very good reason. The direct bright sun will usually tend to create dark shadows, blown highlights and washed-out, unsaturated colours.

However this time of day does present opportunity to photograph in shaded areas and use the transition or alternation of shade and direct sunlight to effect, especially in heavily built up areas. This is particularly effective when working in black and white and the contrasts can be used to effect. Try shooting a shaded alley (which will usually have more light at this time of day) with just a slight beam of sunlight between the buildings or the alternation between shade and sunlight created by a city grid – particularly effective if you are pointing your camera East or West at a right angle to the sun. Use the sunlight reflecting off vehicles or buildings (or the wet streets after a rain shower has cleared) to create glare effects. Conversely if you want to reduce glare from reflective surfaces try out a CPL (polariser) filter.

Photographs captured at this time usually work best in black and white. Plus the removal of colour will draw the viewer’s attention more to the forms, shapes and contrasts of the image and well as bring out the mood of the scene. In urban areas especially – bright colours, especially a vivid car, shop front or banner display can sometimes distract the viewers attention from the totality or the mood of the scene.

Temporary speed limit sign in Glasgow city centre

The above photograph of a temporary speed limit sign at road-works on Waterloo Street in Glasgow city centre was taken in mid afternoon on a clear day in summer. However the closely packed tall buildings and the angle of the sun has rendered the scene completely in shade. Compare this to the image below of the same street taken only a couple of minutes earlier where the stong sunlight is apparent. The slight underexposure has also helped to create an image that could easily have been shot around dusk. The image was composed with a telephoto lens which has compressed the scene and exaggerated the sense of urban density.

Fire hydrant sign and street in Glasgow city centre

In the scene below on George Street, below the University of Strathclyde, the bright sunlight has created a strong contrast between the near concrete building and the darker sandstone building behind, as well as bringing out the detail of the architecture.

Buildings on George Street in Glasgow, Scotland

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