Shooting In Harsh Light (Main Image)

Whether they dabble in photography or shoot with the pros, most photographers know that there is no better time than early morning or early evening to take a gorgeous photograph. These are the “golden hours,” when warm light angles through clouds to reflect rich, textured color. Unfortunately, these “golden hours” could be more accurately described as “golden quarter hours” or, better yet, “golden ten minutes” for all the time they allow us to head outside, set up a shoot, and snap a publishable photograph.

This means that for most photographers, shooting in the middle of the day is inevitable: this is when we’re out with friends, our kids‘ sports games are played, or we’re out exploring our vacation surroundings. It’s true that there are plenty of amazing photos that were taken outside of the so-called “golden hour,” but it’s likely just as true that the photographers of those amazing photos had to make some adjustments to deal with the inevitably harsh natural lighting of an afternoon. Here are a few tips to help you battle harsh lighting on your own mid-day shoot. While you won’t need to use every tip for every photograph, it’s worth being aware of them for the time when the perfect scene presents itself.

1. Understand It’s About Color

In photography, color is just as important as things like texture, pattern, light, and form. Different atmospheric conditions and times of day will directly affect the natural color of your photo. Two different kinds of color exist in photography: soft color (fog, mist, the peaceful surface of a lake) and loud color (a bright red car, the flames of a fire). Have a plan for your photograph depending upon your subject matter and your chosen focus.

2. Don’t Shoot at High Noon

Shooting in the afternoon is one thing, but high noon is a photographer’s nemesis. With the sun straight overhead, high noon is nothing but hard sunlight that will result in hard light, lots of shadows, and weak photographs.

3. Reflect the Light

Reflected Light From The Water

Control harsh light by looking for reflected light. Glass and metal buildings are but two things that can reflect harsh light in softer, more interesting ways. Because light will pick up the color of its reflector, it may be best to seek out natural surfaces when searching for reflective material. On the other hand, think of the way a green car could reflect back onto your subject — will this look unique andartsy, or will it make yoursubject look sickly?

4. Underexpose to Your Advantage

Color often relates directly to exposure. If you have to shoot outside, try making your colors appear softer/more saturated by subtly underexposing your image. Doing so will help to control some of the harsh light.

5. Go Inside

Floors in rooms or buildings with large windows often make great reflectors. Since light picks up the color of its reflector, old wood floors can help to create a warm, yellowish light that can bathe your subject in a gorgeously interesting glow. For a more unique look, look for things like blinds, lace curtains, or anything else that might filter and diffuse light into interesting, usable designs and patterns.

6. Edit Your Photograph into Something Lovely




Don’t stop once you’ve clicked the shutter release! If you’ve successfully controlled, underexposed, reflected, or diffused harsh light and turned it into a fabulous photo, go the next step and have a Phowd editor touch it up. There are any number of things an editor can do to light in a photo, and if they are fortunate enough to begin with a great image, there is no telling how successful the final result could be.

One of the great things about photography is that there is no right or wrong way to take a photograph — your final product is entirely dependent upon what you want. Just remember that while an editor can reduce shadows and enhance color to the point where an image can be completely transformed, beginning with a thoughtfully executed image will allow the editing process to take your photo to a whole new level.
Happy Shooting!

Kelsey Fox

Kelsey Fox

Kelsey Fox is a freelance writer and photographer from Louisville, Kentucky. She specializes in wildlife photography, and travels each summer to Southern Africa in search of the perfect photo.
Kelsey Fox