How to Overcome Harsh Photography Light

Updated: Dec 12, 2020

When taking photos you always hear people talk about how important lighting is to a portrait. I tend to be a control fanatic, so I often take my photos indoors with very specific lighting. However, sometimes I do venture outside because outdoor photos with natural light can be absolutely stunning.

Traveling to Napa to celebrate birthday

I was in Napa Valley last week with my pups celebrating my husband's 40th birthday. It was a perfect vacation. We had a beautiful celebration touring wineries, eating fine food, and strolling through vineyards with our two favorite furry companions. We truly could not have asked for a better time.

Traveling to Napa Valley with your Pup? Check out the Harvest Inn in St. Helena. This is my favorite dog-friendly hotel in the area.

Half way through our trip we had an open morning and decided to do a photo shoot of me and the pups because we fell in love with the vineyard behind our hotel on a previous trip and wanted to take some new photos with this amazing background. I dressed Bailey and Bentley in their finest, put on a cute outfit and walked out into the vineyard in my heels with two dogs on leash and my sweet husband with a DSLR camera strapped around his neck.

Mom and dog in Napa Valley Vineyard with harsh sunlight
Harsh Sun and Squinty Eyes

We took photo after photo with the luscious vines and grapes behind us, but no matter what we tried, the sun blazed on, and every photo turned out too bright with dark shadows. Even Bailey couldn't keep her eyes open. To say I was disappointed is an understatement, but seeing the dogs panting and knowing how many angles and photos we had already tried, I surrendered and walked back to the hotel with my head hung low.

As we approached the back of the hotel we noticed that the courtyard appeared to still be shaded thanks to the surrounding buildings. It was much cooler in this spot, the pups were at ease exploring the nearby gardens, and the courtyard was empty that early in the day. So, even though we were no longer in the actual vineyard, we decided to give the photoshoot another go. In just the first few photos, my husband captured this picture of me and the babies.

Mom and Dogs in Bandanas traveling to Napa Valley
What a difference a little shade can make in the quality of a photo!

Lesson Learned:

Abandon Your Ideal Location for Shade

While sometimes you may have a particular photo setting in mind (e.g., a vineyard), in reality, it just may not work out. So, my advice to you (and a reminder to myself): Do not get so fixated on one location idea, that you miss an even better opportunity. If the sun in an area is too harsh, and you are short on time, find a nearby shaded area to take your picture. If you are not in love with the background, take some closeups of your subject. I guarantee you will be happier with these photos than of a picture in harsh sunlight where you and your pup are squinting.

Tip #1: Look for nearby shade. This will eliminate harsh shadows and squinty eyes.

In this particular instance, if we had not given in to what I considered a "more boring" background, I would not have walked away with this precious photo of me and my babies that will now be framed and hung on our wall at home for many years to come.

Sticking with Your Location:

Making the Bright Sunlight Work for You

Sometimes you just love a particular photo location, and you cannot move to a nice shaded area or come back later in the day when the sun will be better. In this case, my advice is to get a little more creative with your photos. For instance, instead of having your subject look directly at the camera, you may focus on more natural poses. As an example, in the photos below I decided Bailey and I would "have a conversation" so neither of us would have to worry about looking up and squinting into the sun. While at the time I was still upset that I was unable to get the exact photo I had set out to take in the vineyard, I really fell in love with these photos once I got them on the editing table (and bonus - the background is of the awesome vineyard).

Tip #2: Move your subjects into a more natural pose where they are not looking directly at the camera.

What are your tips for dealing with harsh sunlight? Leave a comment below or message me on Instagram!

Much puppy love,


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