Tips for Beating Harsh Light


Sarang Naik shares a few tips to make great images even in harsh light.

Summer is at its worst and the rains are still a couple of weeks away. I am sure you are hiding indoors giving yourself excuses that it’s too bright and hot to make good images.

It is a common belief among photographers that you should avoid shooting in harsh light as it gives you really bad images. But this is not entirely true. Of course you won’t get the kind of images you get in the beautiful golden light of winter. But if you think creatively and use the harsh light to your advantage, you can end up with some unique images. Here are a few tips to work around the ‘bad light’ and go home with great photos.

1. Look for Some Shade
The most obvious thing to beat the bright light is to seek a patch of shade. If you have noticed, the light in shaded areas during midday is quite beautiful. It is a diffused light that wraps around the subject in a distinct way. Look for large tree outdoors or find a room with lots of windows.

2. Mind the Highlights and the Flares
Always use a lens hood to avoid flaring and to get a clear picture or you can get creative by including the flare in the picture. To stop the highlights from blowing out, you can spot meter them or turn on the highlights priority mode in the camera. Also keep the highlights alert option on. This makes the image preview to blink red in the areas that have been clipped.

3. Diffuse and Reflect
The problem with bright light is the extreme contrast between highlights and shadows. You can reduce this contrast by using diffusers. Foldable cloth diffusers are easy to carry. But think big too – clouds act as giant diffusers. You can wait till a cloud temporarily covers the sun then make the most of the diffused light.

Reflectors help to open up hard shadows. Keep an eye out for natural reflectors such as a light coloured wall, a water body, or even the ground beneath your feet.

4.Zoom in Deep
The best way to crop out distracting highlights from the frame is to use a telephoto lens or zoom into the image. This puts the background out of focus and simplifies it.

Photograph/Sarang Naik

Photograph/Sarang Naik

5. Use Creative Filters
Polarisers are your best friends while shooting in harsh light. They reduce the glare from reflective surfaces and boosting th colours at the same time. They also cut the light entering the lens by around 1-2 stops which can help in very bright situations.

Another useful accessory is an Neutral Density filter. It comes in various densities and lets you shoot with a large aperture even in bright light or create surreal long exposure photographs.

6. Pull Out the Flashguns
You can use the on-camera flash to fill in the shadows or go more creative by using off-camera flash. You can use the flashgun to augment the existing light to make the image look natural or you can completely overpower the sun to create some dramatic images.

7. Backlit or Frontlit
When shooting portraits in bright light, ask the person to stand with his or her back to the sun. This kind of back-lighting makes sure that there is a diffused and even light on the face of the person. Spot meter the skin to get the correct exposure and tones. It is alright if the highlights are overexposed, that can actually add a dreamy feel to the image.

Letting the sun light the subject from the front can give you a kind of spotlight effect. Make sure there are no other bright objects in the frame so that everything except the subject is underexposed.

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This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Better Photography.

Tags: shadows, contrast, harsh light, noon, reflectors, Sarang Naik, Tips for Beating Harsh Light, midday, bright light, diffusers, back-lighting, highlights