Dealing With Dappled Light

As I have grown in my photography journey, I have found myself being more and more picky about locations, ideal conditions, and getting the “perfect” shot. I am far from a flawless photographer (even looking at photos from a year ago make me frustrated due to all the mistakes I made.) However, as photography has become more near and dear to my heart, I have become more intentional in my efforts to create great images.

But that mentality can hold me back from actually being a part of my memories. I am a storyteller photographer, and like all stories, conditions and situations are not always perfect. Imagine: a story whose basic plot line is

“She was happy, healthy, wealthy and wise, and everything went her way. The end.”

No one is going to be hitting refresh to be the first to purchase that book!

A few weeks ago, my family and I took advantage of a rare North Carolina summer day when the temperatures were only expected to reach 80°. We drove to Hanging Rock State Park, looking forward to a beautiful hike somewhere we hadn’t been.

Admittedly, I usually plan our hiking trips for either early in the morning or late in the day. I could claim sunburn and heat as my reason, which wouldn’t be entirely untrue, but more than that—I am sad to say—is because I don’t want to deal with the bright sun and its results in my photos: dappled light.

So what is dappled light?

Dappled light is the light coming through trees or other objects that leaves a crazy maze of light and shadows on your subject(s). Sometimes it can be beautiful, especially when it helps create beautiful bokeh (the pretty little circles of light), but most of the time it is just frustrating.

With light coming through the trees, especially close to midday when the sun is overhead, you end up with all sorts of patches of light and shadows. When both of those things end up on your subject, it is impossible to expose properly and you end up with a speckled person. See the bright spots on my daughter’s forehead, my son’s elbow, the rocks, and my daughter’s clothes?

So yes, it bothers me. And yes, I try to avoid it by taking pictures later in the day (or on a cloudy day) when it won’t be as much of an issue. But you know what? Creating and preserving memories is much more important than having perfect photos. Hiking is something our family does a lot of and I want to have photos chronicling our many adventures of the years—perfect or not.

A quick side note:

If we were talking about professional portrait photography, then dappled light, especially on a subject’s face, would be completely inappropriate. But imperfect photos of a perfect day of hiking? Completely acceptable (especially when I am probably the only person in my family that will notice or care!)

But just because I can learn to be okay with imperfect, it doesn’t mean there aren’t a few options for dealing with dappled light. It can’t be avoided, but it can be dealt with.

Here are three strategies for dealing with dappled light:


I can get annoyed, not take the photo, or delete it when I do. Or, I can just be okay with working with what I have because…how cute are they? My sweet girls snuggled on a rock without me asking. My cutie-patootie son holding up his “power stick.” These are precious moments I don’t want to miss.

2. LOOK FOR BETTER (even if not perfect) OPPORTUNITIES

I definitely choose the special moments over perfection. However, as we were hiking, I was also looking for moments when the sun wouldn’t cause dappled light. I was aware of times when we hit pockets of shadow or when I could have my kids turn or me move to another angle when the sun wouldn’t hit their face(s).


I have explained some of the reasons I choose to use black and white photos. Dappled light is a situation that falls under the “poor photo quality reason.” Although far from perfect, the intentional use of black and white can go a long way it taking away the distraction of poor lighting. This is the same photo, but the black and white helps take away the distraction of blight spots and instead helps draw the focus back to the subjects.

Special memories always trump perfect photos, but it doesn’t mean I can’t look for strategies to work with what I have!

——> How about you? Do you have certain photo situations that cause you trouble or frustration?