6 ways to keep shooting in harsh light

Photography tips: how to use a reflector

We often say that it’s best to avoid shooting in harsh midday sunlight, but sometimes it’s unavoidable and your lunch-break may be the only time you have in your busy schedule to take a few shots. In their latest guest blog post the team at Photoventure take a look at a few ways of working in harsh light.

6 ways to keep shooting in harsh light: 01. Work with it

1. Work with it

The most obvious way to shoot in harsh light is to work with it rather than against it.

This doesn’t mean plough on regardless, but to think about what the light is doing to your subject and use it.

At midday the sun is at it’s highest point in the sky, which means that although shadows will be very strong, they may also be quite short.

If you’re shooting a portrait in full sun you can expect to see deep, unattractive shadows under the eyebrows and nose.

However, if the model tips their head back and they look towards the sun these shadows will disappear.

The obvious problem with this is that the model’s eyes will immediately screw up against the harsh light if the try to keep them open, but this is one occasion when closed eyes looks natural.

We all like to turn our faces to the sun and close our eyes once in a while.

You should also consider heading to the nearest park or woodland because delicate leaves and petals look great back-lit and harsh, directional light brings out their structure and colour.

Meanwhile in the city there’s a great mix of deep shadow and strong highlights that can look very effective in black and white.

SEE MORE: 77 photography techniques, tips and tricks for taking pictures of anything

6 ways to keep shooting in harsh light: 02. Use a diffuser

2. Use a diffuser

Holding a diffuser between your light source and subject softens harsh light dramatically and reduces contrast so that there’s detail in shadowy areas and highlights are far less harsh.

There are lots of diffusers available on the market and most pack down to make them easy to transport.

There are models that fold down small enough to fit into a camera bag, but pop-up large enough to be of use when shooting portraits.

SEE MORE: Photography lighting – how to take control of everything from natural light to flash

The problem, however, is that you need to hold the diffuser somehow and not all of us have a willing assistant.

The simplest solution is to support your camera on a tripod, leaving you free to hold the diffuser.

In addition, there are clamps such as the Wimberley Plamp II available to attach a diffuser to a tripod or other support and hold it over a subject.

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6 ways to keep shooting in harsh light: 03. Use a reflector

3. Use a reflector

Commercially available reflectors look very similar to diffusers, but rather than letting light pass through them they reflect it back.

A reflector is held opposite the light source to bounce light back into the shadows.

Some manufacturers make diffusers that come with covers that can be slipped on to create a reflector.

You can also use piece of white card or for extra light, a scrunched up piece of aluminium foil that’s been smoothed-out can also be used (it’s easier to handle if it’s stuck to some card).

SEE MORE: 55 reasons your photos aren’t working (and what you can do about it)

If you don’t have a reflector with you there are plenty of reflective surfaces around you that can be used instead.

Light-coloured buildings, water and bright sand all bounce lots of light back, so it’s just a question of positioning your subject at the right angle to them.


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  • M.Smith

    Excellent article on the discussion of USING harsh light. First that people should realize what harsh light is and what it isn’t. However, when given lemons (harsh light) make lemonaide….I would take a model/friend with me out into the streets of NYC and we would just walk around the city and at random times she would say, ‘okay take my photo’ and I would then have to use what I had to get a professional looking photo. It is fun and very challenging but you learn….Great job on this article. Thanks.