Harding was born at Deptford in 1798, the son of a drawing-master who had been a pupil of Paul Sandby. He was taught perspective by his father, and had lessons from Samuel Prout. At the age of thirteen he exhibited two drawings of buildings in the style of Prout at the Royal Academy.
He was apprenticed to the engraver Charles Pye, but left him after only a year to concentrate on painting watercolours, and when he was 18 he was awarded a silver medal by the Society of Arts. In 1818 he showed with the Society of Painters in Watercolours, (known as the "Old Watercolour Society or OWCS from 1831) for first time. He was to contribute to its exhibitions for the rest of his life. He was elected an associate of the society in 1820 and a full member in 1821. In 1843 he took up oil painting, and exhibited many landscapes in that medium at the Royal Academy. In 1847 he resigned his membership of the OWCS , hoping to be elected a member of the academy; but, after nine years without success, he withdrew his candidature, and was re-elected to the OWCS.