Dealing with mid-day sun can be the absolute worst when it comes to preserving tonality and color in your images. Here, we are breaking down exactly how to post-produce images taken in harsh lighting conditions to balance out the overall tone of the image, while retaining highlights & shadows – an essential skill.

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Problem Areas

When you are shooting journalistically, you don’t have all the liberty you might like to modify light, and therefore, must work with the cards you are dealt.

Take for example this image above, with our beautiful bride making her way down the aisle. There’s spotty lighting at its worst, and absolutely nothing to do to prevent it. Moments like these cannot be rehearsed nor re-done, you only get one shot to make it work. Your best bet is to expose to prevent any clipping of highlights and shadows in order to set yourself to improve upon the image in post production. After bringing the image into Lightroom, bump up the exposure to get the subject’s skin tone to an even point.

Highlights & Shadows

After bringing the image into Lightroom, bump up the exposure to get the subject’s skin tone to an even point. When approaching a harsh lighting situation, notice the heavy contrast between the highlighted areas and the deep shadows in the scene. First, start off by pulling down the ‘Highlights’ and ‘Whites’ of the image in order to balance the overall tone. Bring up the ‘Shadows’ and ‘Blacks’ in the photo to brighten the darker portions of the image.


You’ll notice that the reduction of Highlights and the brightening of Shadows leaves the image lacking in contrast , though never fear, the Tone Curve is here!

Using the Tone Curve to Bring Back Contrast

In order to preserve the original contrast-punch the image had, we adjust the Tone Curve accordingly, and to do that a simple S-Curve does the trick. We use the Tone Curve to decide which range of tones we need to adjust (shadows, midtones, or highlights), and in this case, we want to deepen the shadows and brighten our highlights to increase overall contrast. By pulling down the shadows on the left side of the curve and bringing up the highlights on the right, we have added back the contrast lost from the previous adjustments in the Basic Panel.


Making minor preferential adjustments thereafter, such as warming up the temperature; adding radial or graduated filters to draw attention to the important parts of the image, and sharpening and noise reduction, bring us to the final image! The main goal is to balance out the image and add back contrast where it is lacking.


[REWIND: Split Toning | The ‘Secret’ In The Recipes For Many Adored Images, & Totally Undervalued]

Have suggestions or other techniques to fix harsh lighting conditions? Leave them in the comments below! For more tips and tricks to take your images from ordinary to extraordinary in Lightroom check out our Advanced Lightroom Processing Workshop.

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