Deal With Harsh Lighting

While we all do our best to take good pictures, I'm willing to bet that the time of day rarely factors into your photo decision making. If you're like me, when you see an interesting picture, you just go ahead and take it. But since good photographic situations happen at all times of day, the light can often be pretty uncooperative. At midday, for instance, bright shafts of harsh light can stream through your scene, cutting it apart, like in this shot.

What went wrong with this picture? The midday sunbeam overexposed a quarter of the scene, decimating it and forcing the camera to compensate for all that extra light by underexposing the rest of the picture.

Watch the Clock

So how can you avoid this problem? One solution is to beware the midday hours. Photographers find that the best time of day to take pictures is in the morning and in the late afternoon. From noon to mid-afternoon, light is highly directional, harsh, and unflattering.

This timing can work to your advantage. On holidays, for instance, you can restrict yourself to lugging your camera around in the mornings only. At midday, leave it back in the hotel room and have fun without a camera slung around your neck.

Watch the Sunbeams

If that's not an option, then keep an eye out for the lighting. With a little mental training, it's quite easy to spot situations in which direct light is streaking through your scene. Look for alternating patterns of sun and shade in your viewfinder; if you see them, recompose the shot to eliminate any direct sunlight. If you're shooting at midday, indirect light--in the shade, for instance--makes for much better pictures.

If you can't move the scene, you might be able to block the light. I sometimes carry a flexible reflector in my backpack, such as a Litedisk Photoflex, sold in most camera shops.

The Photoflex unfurls in seconds, and I can hand it to my wife or kids to hold it up to block the sun. I used a reflector to block the sun in this shot, for instance, to get a dramatically better picture of my cat than the one I started this article with.

You can apply the same technique outdoors. For instance, you can use a reflector to shade people in front of a tourist attraction, eliminating the squinting you often get with subjects facing into the sun.

Use Fill Flash

I'll admit that you have to be somewhat dedicated to carry even a small, collapsible reflector around.

A more convenient solution might be using your digital camera's fill flash. If you're photographing a subject that's fairly close--say, within 8 or 10 feet--make sure that your camera's flash is enabled and let it "fill in" the shadows.

Using the fill flash is a great way fix for high-contrast scenes, but remember that it works only with nearby subjects. The flash units built into most digital cameras have a very short range, so they can't do anything to a sun-dappled field 20 feet in the background of your shot. For that sort of muscle, consider adding an external flash, or wait until later in the day, when the sun has moved.

Don't Forget One-Step Photo Fix

If the contrast in your picture isn't too bad, but harsh midday lighting plunged your subject's face into deep shadow, you can handle that sort of problem with your image editor's one-step fix tools.

In Jasc's Paint Shop Pro, for instance, you can click the Enhance Photo button in the toolbar at the top of the screen and choose One Step Photo Fix. Often, the software can automatically brighten the shadows and salvage an otherwise lost picture.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Dave Johnson

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?