Using Natural Light In Photography

Using Natural Light In Photography

Are you a photography beginner? Do you have no money for giant octa boxes and an expensive flash unit?

Well then this post here is for you 🙂 I will show you in this post how you can be using natural light in photography to create better pictures than most others would with a flash unit.

Ready? Ok, let’s get started! 🙂

Why Natural light?

The answer is easy aside from the fact that it costs nothing in opposite to a flash unit. 🙂  You don’t have to carry it around with you, It’s everywhere unless its night and it looks beautiful. But that is not the best part. The best part is that using it will improve your photo skills a lot because you can’t just completely change the light setup as you can with studio lights. When you train to use natural light on purpose you will be able to shoot good pictures in every location.


Check The Light Quality

What I mean by that is check what weather it is. Sun? Rain? Cloudy? Because the light will change quite a lot with the weather situation as explained below.

The Quality Of Straight Sunlight

Straight sunlight can be beautiful for lots of people and a pain in the ass for lots of photographers 🙂 Why? On one hand, sunlight is awesome light is everywhere, a warm color temperature and colors really pop in it. On the other hand, it sucks because it is very hard and creates even harder shadows and that doesn’t look good in a portrait. But don’t you worry I got you. 🙂 just continue reading ;P

Using Natural Light In Photography
yep the harsh light makes this portrait horrible, but the colors still pop though ;P

The Quality Of Rainy Cloudy Light

It’s the same with this light. It’s awesome and it sucks at the same time. Why it’s awesome is because in the opposite to straight sunlight the light gets filtered through the clouds like a giant softbox. So it will create shadows that are very soft and look awesome. Plus you got a firm medium color temperature.

The bad side of it is, that it is freaking raining men. (hallelujah) Aside from that everything is grey. Colors don’t pop and shadows can sometimes almost disappear.

Using Natural Light In Photography


What Is Color Temperature?

I knew you would probably ask that. Color temperature is basically how warm or cold the light looks and is measured in Kelvin as your white balance in your camera.


Check The Position

In other words what time is it? Because the sun will shine from different angles depending on what time it is. Which will of course also change the way the shadows fall as well as the color temperature. Right?

What’s The Best Position or Time?

To find that out you can either click here for info on the golden hour or here for the blue hour or read my short quick explanation. 🙂 When you look at pictures shot by a professional in natural light, you will probably see that they all where sot around the same time. Sunrise or sunset 🙂 Of course, you can also shoot at midday, if you want to know how click here, but for now, we stick to the easiest method and that is during those times below.

Using Natural Light In Photography
This was taken at the golden hour.

Midday (You need to know some tricks up your sleeves)

  • Golden Hour
  • Civil twilight
  • Blue Hour
  • Nautical Twilight
  • Astronomical Twilight

Night

The time when the golden hour and the rest always depend on your location and the time of the year, but no worries you can look them up on google or use this handy little app here which will also tell you how the weather will be and where the sun will stand at any given time.


What can we do to improve the situation?

Since the purpose of this post is to tell you how to use natural light we can’t be using flashes. Right?! But I got something way cooler and cheaper in mind. A 5-way reflector wup wup! 🙂 No seriously a 5-way reflector is super cool Its light it can be small and it definitely is awesome!!! Are you not as thrilled as me? Read the rest of the post and think that again. 😉

  • You can use it as a fill light

For example, use the white side to brighten up the face or to get rid of shadows in the wrong spot.

Using Natural Light In Photography
Here the main light comes from the right and from the left is a reflector filling in to brighten up shadows.

 

  • You can defuse light with it

This is awesome for harsh sunlight. Just strip the reflector off and just use the frame also called defuser. Put it in between the sunlight and your model and voila you have super soft light. The closer you get to the subject the brighter the light will be.

  • You can use it to block light

Why would I do that? Sometimes you will find a good place underneath a tree or near a bush with nice shady light. Everything is perfect there is just one sunbeam coming through the leaves directly into the nose hole of the model. That is the time when the awesome reflector in form of a defuser comes into play once again. I like to use the defuser for that because it doesn’t take light away or adds any it just defuses the sunbeam and spreads it in a soft way all over the model.

  • You can use it as main light source

I love to do that in sunset shots. I use the sun as a beautiful backlight and reflect it with the silver side directly onto the subject. Of course, you can archive the same thing with a flash that has ETTL to keep the bokeh which will cost a fortune and takes time to set up or just a $20 reflector.

 

Using Natural Light In Photography

  • You can use it to create catchlights

In case you don’t know a catch light is a reflection in your eyes that sets a nice accent and makes them look awesome and draws attention to them. I love to do that in almost all my pictures, but especially on cloudy days to bring the eyes out and give the picture something special. They are created by flashes, the sun, softboxes, ring lights, windows, Octaboxes or by a reflector. My favorite is to create one is a reflector because the catch light will always have the form and size of the light source. Which is in case of the reflector a big nice and round circle.

catchlight
When you look at her eyes you see the light source in it. Between pros like you and me, we call it catchlight. 😛
  • You can even use it to create shadows

If you have problems finding interesting shadows, you can create some with the black side of the reflector. It sucks up all the light and makes some interesting soft shadows.

The black side was placed on the right side to absorb all the light coming from the left side.

Final Thoughts

I know a reflector is a total mind blow 😀 OK, seriously I know a flash seems fancier and It sure has its place in photography. I still like to shoot more often with a reflector because it is easier and faster to setup and carry around. Plus one thing most people don’t think about is that as soon as you use flashes you mix two very different light sources and it will almost never look natural.

I think it is actually really fun to just use light as it is and get better results than the photographer next to you in the park who brought his whole studio with him to get a decent shot while you just use a $20 gadget to archive the same or even better results.


Last but certainly not least

Using natural light on purpose will make you a better photographer who knows how to take good pictures in almost every light situation. As well as it will open your eyes to look out for interesting light situations.


Alright, that’s already it for my guide and inspirational post about using natural light in photography. If you have any opinion or question please let me know in the comments and I will get to you as quick as I can.

Cheers Aaron

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8 thoughts on “Using Natural Light In Photography

  1. Darren

    As any photographer knows, it’s all about lighting, no matter what the subject or the desired result. Nothing beats natural lighting, as flash photography can look so harsh and unnatural.

    I’ve picked up some really cool tips from your article about how best to use natural light. I’m always looking to improve.

    Sometimes cloudy weather can produce really awesome results, but at other times everything kind of looks drab and colourless. In the end, I guess it’s all about experimentation on any given day.

    1. Aaron

      Hey Darren, yep they both have pros an cons. I found the best weather situation is when it’s just a little cloudy and there is still some contrast in the world. What I also like to do is to just work with the grey drab look and make it interesting like it was supposed to be like this.

  2. Netta

    Hey Jason:

    Your enthusiasm and knowledge about photography is certainly inspiring! I love natural light my own self and am having fun exploring that.

    Thanks for the suggestions about using the reflector to help make better images. I do wonder if there’s a way for a solo photographer to use the things. I often don’t have some eager body around to hold the thing up for me.

    1. Aaron

      Hey Netta, Yes to hold the thing can sometimes become an issue. You can either use a smaller reflector that is easier to hold, put it on a stand (there are special reflector stands that are small and handy), a friend or a passing by person, when I have asked people in the past they where more than happy to participate in a photo shoot. 🙂

  3. Tyler Redlev

    I think it’s about the message you’re trying to give in the photo or the composition you’re trying to capture. The light and postures are changing constantly and it’s all up to you how you’re going to use them for your own benefit!!

    But external helps such as light diffusers and other apparatuses are coming in handy especially if you don’t have the luxury to choose your light conditions.

    1. Aaron

      Hey Tyler, yes it’s all about how you use the things that the situation gives you. A reflector or diffuser is super versatile and light to carry around. Plus it helps you understand the way light works way better that a flash does. Because you have constant light not just  1/100th of a sec.

  4. Gabriella Tito

    Rainy cloudy light looks really beautiful, and so serene!

    I’m familiar with color temperature since I am a cartoonist, but I never thought it quite the same with photography. It reminds me of when movie posters often clash blue and orange together.

    Using the reflector really does blow my mind! It creates such a difference. It seems like there’s a lot of creativity to be had here…

    Using natural light in photography seems to have its ups and downs, but I can appreciate it all from this post. Thanks for sharing

    1. Aaron

      Hey Gabriella, thank you for the nice feedback. 🙂 Yes the teal and orange look is very popular at the moment, but also for a reason because it the orange goes very well with the skin tones and the blue works awesome with the shadows. (A lot of people just like to overdo the look). 🙂 using a reflector can really change a lot and help way more to understand light than flashes. Because of the constant light. Plus it is cheap 🙂

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