Harsh Light Photography — Shooting in the Daytime

Kino Alyse
5 min readDec 12, 2019
Harsh Light Photography - Shooting in the Daytime

Harsh light photography, bemoaned by amateur and professional photographers alike. Here are several reasons you should go outside and bathe in the sunshine.

What is Harsh Light?

Harsh light photography is a situation in which the highlights and blacks within a scene are spaced out. In other terms, the contrast is harsh — there’s a hard line between light and shadow. Photographers often associate it with when the sun is higher in the sky. Correspondingly, look outside during a cloudless day. Light is harsh and directional and shadows are long and defined.

Depending on what type of photographer you are, how you respond to harsh light differs: a portrait photographer has to manage single-shot photography and avoid hard lines on their clients’ faces. Architecture and landscape photographers have to deal with flat daytime light that causes detail loss.

And so, how do we navigate these issues?

Quick Tip: If you are a single-shot photographer, always shoot for the highlights — over-exposed highlights are easier to turn down than under-exposed shadows, especially if you use muted blacks in your style already!

Daytime Photography Techniques

Harsh Light Photography - Move the Subject

Move the subject
First and often easiest, try moving the subject so the light source is to their back or near their back on the right or left. This is called backlighting. Not only will this create a nice glow on the outline of their features, but the background is easier to manage.

Equally important, keep an eye for dark or bright features in the background and frame the subject within that, too.

Of course, for portrait photographers who use backlighting, bring a flash to gently balance your foreground subjects with the background.



Kino Alyse

My name is Kino, a Denver and architectural and landscape photographer. I am a freelance photographer and I write photography and creative industry tutorials.