Image making is all about recording light. Our duty, as the photographer, is to manipulate that light to create the images we want. We can do that with ambient light like street lights, lamps, signs, etc, or strobe and speedlights. We’re here to tell you that there is one amazing alternative that is so often overlooked, and absolutely free to access. That alternative is the sun.
Shooting with natural light has many benefits. The first and foremost, is that it offers the most flexibility, especially if you’re shooting outside. You can move your subject matter and photograph against different backgrounds, and assuming that it isn’t too cloudy, your available light will stay the same. The second benefit is that natural light tends to be very bright, which means that we can shoot at a lower ISO, opening up shooting options and keeping our images noise-free. If you would like a refresher on camera settings, feel free to check out our Mastering The Exposure Triangle article.
We’ll be going through how to make the most of your natural light by offering helpful tricks when it comes to window lighting, and shooting at different times of day.
Before You Begin
Although these tips can be applicable for any method of photographing, such as an analog camera to a cell phone, we recommend practicing with a DSLR or mirrorless camera to offer the most control and immediate feedback. If you’re going to shoot later in the evening, a tri-pod is great to keep your camera as still as possible. Finally, an amazing tool to have on you is a reflector of some sort. These will be an amazing aid in filling in any shadows, especially when it comes to portraits. If you don’t have a reflector, a white piece of paper or large bristol board is a great way to start.
Find A Window
If you’re indoors and looking to photograph a portrait, find a window in the building. It’s always a good idea to scout the location ahead of time for this reason, so that you can find a few options to start with. Have your subject turn and face the window, so that the light is centred on them. Try to position them so that they are lower than the window. A higher window will always offer the most flattering light for portraits. If you have a reflector on you, use it to bounce light into the shadows to soften the face.
Shooting in Midday
Shooting when the sun is at its highest is not always ideal. Unless you’re shooting subject matter that is texture-focused and want to pull out those details, try to avoid shooting in midday. Oftentimes, scheduling can prohibit us from shooting when the sun is lower, like events and weddings. If you find yourself shooting during the noon hour, try to find some shade to place your subject in. This way, you can avoid harsh shadows by immediately softening out direct light.
Shooting in Golden Hour
Any photographer will tell you that golden hour is the best time of day to shoot. Golden hour is 1 – 2 hours after the sun comes up in the morning, and 1 – 2 hours before the sun sets in the evening. Why it’s called “golden hour” is self-explanatory, it offers a beautiful quality of light that can elevate your images to a cinematic level. You will definitely want to come prepared for these shoots, as time is of the essence.
Shooting in Evening
Twilight occurs right after the sun sets, illuminating landscapes and people in a beautiful blue light. Photographing during this time can provide you with mysterious, emotional images. If you’re planning on shooting during the evening, make sure you have a tripod to keep your camera as still as possible, as light will be limited. Play around with ambient light in the background, like streetlights. Shooting at a small aperture will create a bokeh effect, perfect to compliment any portrait.
And those are your basics for photographing with natural light. Don’t be afraid to shoot in super low light conditions, and embrace the sun!
Here are some great examples to inspire your creativity.