Shooting in Harsh Light

Rachel Johanna

Product Photographer & Marketing Maven

Finding the perfect light isn’t always possible. It’s not like you can move the sun when you’ve found the perfect spot to capture a moment.

That’s why learning to shoot in direct sunlight is a pro-level trick you need up your sleeve. 

So when the clouds are absent, use these tricks to capture great photos with high-end, flattering vibes. 

Harsh shadows

Typically considered a bad thing, you can actually take great shadowy photos. Use this challenge to your advantage.

Harsh shadows can be turned into awesome contrast if utilized correctly. For example, Shadows aren’t good under your model’s eyes but they look great along the jawline. Position your model just right (chin up) and you turn those Shadows from a don’t into a do!

Shadows can make a really creative shot too. Shooting through something like leaves or the bars of a fence post can make a neat pattern on your subject that you can only create with bright light. 

Position the Sun

Like I said earlier, your course cannot move the Sun. But depending on what you’re shooting, you might be able to move your subject into better light. 

If you’re confident in your editing abilities, I definitely recommend trying to backlight your subject. Keeping the sun behind your subjects can give a really flattering light as it comes around the subject from behind. Your shadows will look softer this way then if the light is coming from the front. The reason I say you need to be confident in your editing though is because your subject might appear kind of dark at first and you’ll need to bring that up in post.  This is a great reason to shoot raw if you’re comfortable with that.

You could also find some way to bounce your sunlight back onto your subjects like a bright wall or if you are carrying your camera bag you should definitely have a reflector in there. Again this is going to help you have more flattering Shadows. 

Shoot Wide

Shooting wide can look really great when you shoot in harsh sunlight. Shooting wide means that you’re not as up-close-and-personal with your subject so harsh shadows aren’t as obvious. The wide angle can be a little bit more forgiving. Shooting wide is also drama packed and flattering for places with great architecture or landscape. 

Find Shade

Of course this is going to seem obvious, but if you can find shade even if it’s just a small amount of shade it can make a big difference in a harsh sunlight photograph.  shade will soften Shadows, be more flattering on skin tones, and allow your model to not have to squint. it can be really cool to shoot right on the edge of where the sunlight Meet The Shadow that way you still see the bright beautiful light and get the flattering soft tones from the Shadows. The Best of Both Worlds.  This can also be a great place to find a sun flare if that’s something you’re into. 

Choose edits that match well with high contrast

When you’re done shooting and it’s time to edit, choosing the right editing process to really maximize contrast can also help you get pro-level photographs..  here is a great  place to utilize your curves tool.  the famous S curve is great for Harsh sunlight photographs.

You can also use the curves tool to lessen the contrast if you’d like to. Move the bottom left point up along the edge -like so- and that will tone down your dark areas.

This is what I always call a moody black look. It’s very popular and can be super fun on high contrast images. I obviously like it cuz I talk about it a lot. 

High contrast also looks great in black and white. 

And with higher saturation… one of the best reasons to shoot in full sun is that you can get really blue skies. You can definitely lean into that one you’re editing.

You can remove the color with our saturation tool in the lab  

& my favorite way to get a more vibrant photo is to use Clarity Pro.

And our filter Sunrise really leans into that right colorful kind of vibe with an overlay that looks like sunrise

Pro tip

When shooting with models, ask that they not wear sunglasses unless you’re planning to shoot with the sunglasses on their face. when your model wears their sunglasses in between shots, they can interfere with the way the pupils dilate. If they are wearing sunglasses and then take them off right before you shoot – the harsh bright light enters their eyes and the pupils will dilate really wide which might look odd. Give their eyes some time to adjust! 

So now that the sunshine is out where I am, I’m out and about taking great photos – even in the middle of the day – and I hope you guys get a chance to do the same.

Use our hashtag Camera + 2 on Instagram and on Twitter so that we can see your harsh shadows.


Happy sunshiny shooting!

Published by Rachel Johanna

Product Photographer & Marketing Maven