Outdoor photography hack: Diffusing harsh light with a reflector

Post by
Jinny Olney
Outdoor photography hack: Diffusing harsh light with a reflector

Beautiful natural light is a photographers best friend and sometimes your shot calls for some natural outdoor settings in full sunlight. The only problem with this is that strong sunlight can often produce harsh shadows and burns the highlights which the camera finds difficult to meter.

poolside relaxing with magazine and sunglasses

Luckily there is an easy fix for this situation and it comes from one of the cheapest and most useful pieces of photography equipment you can own - the trusty reflector.

The name might sound confusing at first but these days most reflectors actually have 5 different panels you can use to get different effects within your photo. Inside is a translucent panel with a double sided cover that you can zip over to create four different lighting effects:

When shooting indoors it is handy to use the white reflector to help bounce window light back onto my objects. But in this post, it’s all about the translucent panel inside which I am using to soften the harsh sunlight in this image. Take a look at the set up below to see what this diffuser panel looks like.

diffusing harsh shadows from poolside relaxing with magazine and sunglasses


How to use a diffuser to shoot in hard sunlight

Taking photos in bright sunlight without a reflector can create overexposed highlights and harsh shadows in your photo. The camera finds it difficult to ‘compute’ the light in the image which can result in the loss of detail as you can see in top right hand corner of the image below.

photographing outside with harsh sunlight and shadows
photographing outside with harsh sunlight and shadows using a diffuser

Using the translucent panel of the reflector will help you to diffuse these highlights and shadows. This will create a better dynamic range of your image where everything is in balance and also retains the detail in your images..

In order for the diffuser to work, you need to find the direction of where the sun is coming from. Then you ‘block’ or 'filter' the sunlight with your diffuser.

In saying all this, sometimes you may want to have a look with really harsh shadows. A lot of editorial images often create this for a more dramatic feel to the image. It’s all up to personal taste and/ or the mood you’re trying to portray.

photographing outside with harsh sunlight and shadows editorial and drama

Tips if you want to shoot in sunlight but don’t have a reflector with you:

Ready to produce customised photos & video for your brand?

Want to get paid to create visual content?

Get access to paid work opportunities with global brands. Register your interest by sharing some examples of your work.

Sign up to receive the latest digital brand strategies and case studies

Download our free guide: 20 brand campaigns using visual context to engage consumers

Sign up to receive the latest content creation tips and tutorials

Share this: 

Browse by topic

More Articles

Visual Content Creation

Inspiring Creator Series: Erica Ferraroni

Discover how Italian artist Erica Ferraroni turns still life objects in her food and product photography into a striking beauty

Inside Creatively Squared

DIY Shelley combines her passion for home renovating with her love for content creation

How DIY Shelley has built a successful photography side hustle from her passion for creating beautiful spaces