Photography Tips for Shooting in Less Than Ideal Conditions

October 19, 2020


One of the hardest things as a photographer is when you have a vision in your head of the shot you want to capture, but it turns out completely different than you thought… usually worse than you thought. You have to spend time rearranging your set up and reevaluating your lighting and location. And that’s just when shooting under ideal conditions!

So what about when you don’t have good conditions or have something completely different to work with than you anticipated? That’s what happened to me and my friend Michaela during one of our recent photoshoots.

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Let me give you some context. My friend and I are both photographers, and we love going to interesting locations to get new photos and practice our photography skills. We decided to visit Shelby Farms Park in Memphis, Tennessee in the fall because they have a lot of beautiful fields, including sunflowers fields which have been sort of a bucket list photoshoot for me!

It was about 4 PM and the sun was still pretty high. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and it was bright. You might think this is a good thing, but not really.

  • Photography Tip 1: Shooting around sunrise or sunset is always best. Bright light during the middle of the day can create harsh and unflattering shadows on your subject. The softer warmer light of golden hour (1 or 2 hours after sunrise/before sunset) produces a glowy look if used correctly.

With only an hour to shoot, we drove around the park looking for a good location. Realizing that most of the pretty fields had recently been mowed down, we opted to head straight for the sunflowers.

We get out to take a better look at what we have to work with, and every single sunflower is dead. All except this one…

Sunflower Photoshoot - Shooting in less than ideal circumstances

Not much of a portrait location, but we did snap a few photos of this lone sunflower. You may be able see that the rest of the field is wilted behind it, but it actually made for a nice green background when blurred out with bokeh.

  • Photography Tip 2: If your background isn’t the greatest, shooting with a low f-stop such as f/1.8 or f/2.0 can help blur out some of the distractions and give you a more pleasing image. 

While we were snapping away, a little bee decided to make an appearance. I guess he was also interested in the only flower in the area.

Sunflower Photoshoot - Shooting in less than ideal circumstances

So our sunflower shoot was a bust. But girls, you understand. If you get dressed up all cute for pictures, you want to have some photos of yourself!

Our location was ruined, we were pressed for time, and the lighting was obnoxiously bright. How did we make the best of less than ideal circumstances? We used the nearby cornfield.

Fall Photoshoot in corn field - Shooting in less than ideal circumstances

It was a little dried up and dead looking, but as you can see below, it made for some gorgeous, warm, golden hour portraits.

Fall Photoshoot in corn field - Shooting in less than ideal circumstances

I’m going to be honest, these are some of my favorite pictures I’ve had taken of me in a long time! Golden hour light is my favorite!

  • Photography Tip 3: When taking portraits, have your subject face you and position the light source behind them and at an angle to achieve a backlit look. That’s how we got the glowy highlights on our hair and coming through the corn stalks.

Fall Photoshoot in corn field - Shooting in less than ideal circumstances

All of these photos were taken with my Canon 50 mm f/1.8. It’s a very versatile prime lens that is so affordable for beginners, and it will likely stay in your camera bag no matter how far you progress in your photography career!

Fall Photoshoot in corn field - Shooting in less than ideal circumstances

  • Photography Tip 4: Use objects and scenery in the foreground to create interest. You can see the blurry corn leaves in front of me make up the foreground.


Overall, it was a complicated shoot, but it was so much fun. Shooting in ideal conditions is great, but taking good photos doesn’t depend on just your surroundings. Learn how to use your camera and how to position your subject in relation to the background and the light, and you’ll be able to take better photos no matter where you are.

It just goes to show that if things aren’t turning out the way you planned, keep your eyes open. You never know when you’ll find something better than you imagined to begin with!


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Need some photography tips for shooting in less than ideal circumstances? Here's what to do if your photo session doesn't go as planned. Harsh lighting, messy locations, and limited time can ruin a photo session if you're not prepared! See how we took a chaotic and complicated photo shoot and turned it into beautiful portraits! #fallphotoshoot #photographytips #beginnerphotographytips #amateurphotography #beginnerphotography


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