Natural light is a photographer's best friend, but do you know how to harness its full potential? It's ok to sometimes ditch the flash and your led lights and learn how to make the most of Mother Nature's beautiful, free lighting.
Light will easily make or break your photo - it defines your image's outcome, and I would say it's more important than your subject. So understanding natural light and how to use it will be one of the most important things you can learn. I've got you covered, and I put together a guide with some of the best natural light tips.
How to Use Natural Light:
- Know the different types of natural light. The morning, afternoon, and night will all offer other lights, colors, and moods. Take advantage of the Golden Hour and Blue Hour to get beautiful, warm, glowing images. Avoid shooting midday when the sun is at its highest, creating harsh shadows.
- Understand the direction of the sun. Different directions of the sun can create different light and shadow effects. Front lighting prevents shadows, side lighting accentuates patterns and texture, and backlight creates silhouettes.
- Learn how to modify natural light. Use reflectors to bounce and guide light back toward your subject and diffusers to decrease harsh shadows and give you softer light. These accessories can help you manipulate natural light in low-light conditions.
- Use manual mode on your camera. Always use manual mode on your camera for ultimate control over your settings. Understand ISO, aperture, and shutter speed to capture the best image.
- Take photographs during all types of weather. Don't be afraid to shoot in harsh weather conditions like foggy or cloudy days. These conditions can provide exciting and eerie vibes.
- Pay attention to angles. Knowing how light works should help you understand where to place your subject for the best photograph. Use composition techniques and angle your subject to control where the sun hits them.
- Take advantage of the Golden Hour. Step out during the Golden Hour, the hour before sunset, or the hour after sunrise, and shoot away. This is the perfect time to capture beautiful, warm, and glowing images that can't be reproduced.
Bonus Tip: Stay away from direct bright sunlight when taking portraits. During midday hours, with direct sunlight, intense shadows can ruin a photograph. Try using a shady area or side light to capture portraits more flatteringly.
Related article: Camera Settings for Bright Sunlight
What is Natural Light?
Natural light is the sunlight that pours in through windows, creeps in through the trees, and dances across landscapes. It's the kind of light available to us for free, 24/7 (except at night, of course). Unlike artificial lighting, it doesn't require any fancy equipment; you only need a camera, lens, some know-how, and the great outdoors. So let's dive into the wonderful world of natural light and learn how to make the most of that beautiful, free light source!
What is Artificial Light in Photography?
To understand natural light, you should know its opposite, artificial light. To put it in the simplest terms, artificial light is anything that isn't natural. Examples of this are external flashes, led lights, and studio strobes. Artificial light is a great resource when you need more natural light. Enough of artificial light - our main focus today is natural light!
How to Use Natural Light?
Natural light can give you the most beautiful photos or the harshest, depending on how you use it. Some of the sun's most potent rays can't even be fixed during the post-processing step - so tread carefully! Here are my recommendations to use the sun to your advantage:
Get to Know the Sun
Understand how the sun works during different times of the day. The morning, afternoon, and night will all offer other lights, colors, and moods.
- Golden Hour: This is one of my favorite times to shoot. It's also referred to as the magic hour because...it's magical. This is about the last hour before sunset or the hour after sunrise. During these times, you will capture a beautiful warmth and glow that instantly illuminates any image.
- Blue Hour: The blue hour occurs about 20 minutes before or after sunset, also called the twilight period. During this time, the sun is well below the horizon, and the sky picks up gorgeous blue hues. This is a great time to capture city lights.
- Midday: During the midday hours, you encounter harsh lights. This is because the sun is typically at its highest point and is just beaming down - creating unsightly shadows. So if you want a high-contrast photo, this would be a great time to start shooting. Otherwise, stay away from this time.
Understand the Directions of the Sun
Since the sun hits in different directions, it's good to know what each direction can do for light and shadows. Understanding this will help you photograph details.
- Front Lighting: Light that shines directly on the subject (and behind you) prevents shadows. It is also a surefire way to get a decent photo.
- Side Lighting: This is a great way to get creative with light and shadows. Side light will accentuate patterns, texture, and depth.
- Back Lighting: Opposite of front light, a backlight is when light shines behind the subject (and in front of you). This direction should be used when photographing silhouettes since your subject will become extremely dark and essentially a silhouette.
How to Modify Natural Light?
Learn how to manipulate or modify natural light in low-light conditions.
- Reflectors: A reflector is a reflective surface to help bounce and guide light back toward your subject. You can purchase great reflectors right on our website! These will help soften shadows or give you soft light.
- Diffusers: A diffuser is an almost translucent material between the light and your subject to decrease harsh shadows and give you softer light. They help your photos become so much more vibrant!
Manual Mode vs. Automatic Camera Mode
Always use manual mode on your camera so you can have ultimate control. You don't want your camera to automatically pick your settings. Check out this article that takes a deep dive into the various settings like ISO, aperture, and shutter speed: Camera Settings Guide – Best Camera Settings in Photography
Natural Light Photography Tips
Now that you understand how natural light works, here are my top five tips:
1. Take photographs during all types of weather.
Take photographs in harsh weather conditions. If you understand how light works, you can still take amazing pictures during foggy or cloudy days. This weather can be great if you are trying to capture eerie vibes.
2. Understand angles
Understanding light should help you know where to place your subject for the best photograph. Use composition techniques to angle your subject to control where the sun hits them.
3. Don't forget about white balance
Even though we see colors for how they are, sometimes our camera will use the white balance setting and modifies how we see the light. This will determine if your white turn out with blue or orange hues. Opt for daylight mode when shooting outdoors.
4. Step out during the golden hour
Take advantage of that golden hour and shoot away. As I said earlier, this is my favorite time to shoot. It is almost always guaranteed to get a great photograph during this time. This type of light can't be reproduced. You can also rely on the spot-meter setting on your camera to help you measure the light.
5. Stay away from direct sunlight when taking portraitsDuring those midday hours with direct bright sunlight, it is almost guaranteed that you will get intense shadows. This is an easy way to ruin a photograph. If you can't avoid harsh light, get creative. Try using a shady area to help diffuse light.
Natural light is a powerful tool that can take your photography skills to the next level. It's free, abundant, and can help you capture stunning photos you'll be proud to share. By understanding how to use natural light, you can create beautiful images full of depth, texture, and emotion. Whether you're shooting portraits, landscapes, or flowers and insects, natural light can add something special that artificial lighting can't replicate. So experiment with different times of day, locations, and techniques. Take advantage of what nature offers and let your creativity run wild.