Natural Lighting

“I am a natural light photographer.” “I only use natural light when shooting.” Phrases you hear quite often, but what does that really mean? It means a photographer that uses the light from the sun (or diffused light from daytime clouds) as their only source of lighting. I am a natural light photographer…well, as often as I can be here in Germany. I use natural light 90% of the time in my studio, and 100% of the time outside (there are photographers who bring artificial lighting to outdoor locations). There is nothing wrong with this, I just do not feel the need to carry extra equipment that I won’t use because all the lighting I need is already there.  All I want to worry about bringing is myself, a vision, my camera, and the subject to be photographed.

So, what’s the benefit of natural lighting? It’s totally personal, and depends on your style…but for me, PERFECT SKIN TONES!  Especially now that I have my ExpoDisc, and can set my White Balance (WB) to custom. Not a good way to shoot though, if your style is High-Key/Low-Key or something that needs the dramatic shadows and tones. So for me, natural lighting is the way to go;  it’s right there and it’s free! Cloudy days are even better for this, and definitely if you need to shoot mid-day. You don’t have to worry about finding shade for your subjects, or finding shade without those pesky light beams, or using a diffuser to scatter the direct sunlight. Most pro photogs will tell you to shoot at the “golden hour”, and I couldn’t agree more (you’ll see why later). Start shooting up to two hours after sunrise, or two hours before sunset. The light is golden, and nicely diffused, and will help create gorgeous backlit images.

Backlit? It means when you shoot at the light, with your subject between you and the sun. I usually have to move around (and tend to look like a monkey when doing so,) to get their body to block the sun. I will also use my hand to somewhat “shield” my lens to focus and keep the haze out, so you can actually see the image. You have to be careful here not to blow out (overexpose) your image, but shooting RAW can help recover the details, not all, but does help. Your image, when exposed at “0” might not be what you are looking for. Set it to “-1” or lower to get a better silhouette, especially at sunset, and set it higher “1+” and you can see the subject but not so much the background. You can use Camera Raw to recover some of the background, but you must practice to find a balance you like.

Ok, now you have the basics…time for some images!

Ok, here is my studio…this wasn’t artificially lit…it was shot using the natural light that is flowing in from the left and right sides of the room. Pardon the horrid in-camera vignetting.

Ok, now you can see (with my handy-dandy arrows) where the light is flowing in from. Through the living room window on the right (which is usually open, but had to close so it didn’t look like a big white blob.) As well as the two windows on the left. I took the image with my wide angle, so you could get a feel for how big these windows are…I have 12’ ceilings and the windows are about 6.5’ tall. I labeled the umbrella lights, which contain 5500K studio lights. (Natural light measures at 5200K, so these are almost identical to outside light.) I ONLY use these to fill in for shadowing or if the sun/light outside has disappeared. Note: I have closed the curtains and shot in the studio late at night…great lights, but gives you a different look/feel/mood than daytime, natural lighting.


Here it is again, with the doors closed. As you can see I can shoot in this direction, having the light come in from the side; or shoot at the doors, having direct lighting on the subjects faces. The doors also serve as great reflectors, especially early in the morning, when the light is coming in directly from the left.

Ok, so this was taken the day before, with the exact same set as up above (minus the pretty new teal backdrop I just got in). I shot straight on, as pictured above, so the light was coming in from the left. Doors to the living room were open, so light was also coming in from the right. See how even the lighting is?

Same thing below, however, it got dark out due to cloud coverage. I used one of the umbrella lights, angled over my right shoulder, approximately 3 feet from Baby S to fill in the shadows that were created from the clouds outside. Still pretty even lighting across baby.

Here is an example outside. This was 30 min before sunset…gorgeous colors, and the sun was almost directly to our right. (See next image.) It gives a great shadow on her right side, but she is still evenly illuminated where the light hits.

This is taken to the right of Miss J from above, I just pivoted. You can see where the sun is, for the image above, and how I used it for this image. I posed her, then moved around until I got the sun just peaking out from behind her…and WHALLA! Love these colors!

Same here, got the sun right behind her head this time, over exposed the image so I could “see” her face, and boom! Even caught a beautiful sun flare…which I am a sucker for! They are not for everyone, and I think they give the image a natural vintage feel.
 So there you have it…Natural Lighting – The Basics! Have a question? I’m not an expert in photography, nor in lighting, but I know what I know, and if I can help, I surely will! So ask away!

4 thoughts on “Natural Lighting

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