Utilizing Natural Light
At some point, you are going to ask yourself a very important question: “Am I a studio light or natural light photographer?”
Each type of lighting has it’s own characteristics and benefits. Studio lighting is customizable, professional, and allows you to capture nearly everything you need the lighting for. Natural light is beautiful, available, classic and impossible to replicate.
Unfortunately, each type of lighting has a downside as well; Studio lights are cumbersome and difficult to transport, they need a power source, they are expensive, and they take time to set up. Natural light is uncontrollable, so your at the mercy of your environment.
I’m a big fan of natural light – Something about it just feels so right, and like I said above, you can’t replicate natural light in a studio. Let me introduce you to the most common lighting situations you will face out in the world.
Shooting at 12 noon will give you very hot or orange/yellow light. Since the sun is at it’s highest point in the sky, you will get very bright highlights and very dark shadows. Not saying it’s impossible to shoot it – I’m just saying you will have a hell of a time getting decent detail in both the shadows and the highlights unless you use a reflector or a fill-flash of some kind or you’re willing to work a little photoshop HDR magic.
However, this type of lighting takes up a large chunk of the day – from about 10am to about 4pm, so it’s convenient to shoot in. Which brings us to our next type of natural light:
If the mid-day sun is too much for you to handle, try moving your subject under a tree. It’s so simple – the leaves and brunches take out the intensity of the sun enough so your subject doesn’t have to squint, and you get beautiful patterns of light all over your photo. If you use these patterns properly – like placing a highlight directly on your subjects face, it can work very well for you.
Warm vs. Cold
The best time of day to shoot is bright and early – between 5 and 7am, and later in the day before sunset. Morning light is significantly cooler or bluer than evening light. And you won’t get the harsh shadows created by noon light. If you shoot about an hour before sunset, you will capture a magical mood – in the film industry known as the “Golden Hour” because everything takes on an angelic glow – it’s beautiful, but you have to be prepared and work fast – you lose light very quickly during sunset.
This photo was taken in a gazebo around 6pm:
And this next photo is the same model, but taken much earlier in the morning:
You can also get a similarly cold look from shooting in the shade or on a cloudy day. Each image cold and warm has it’s own feeling that you can utilize however you wish.
I’ve saved the best for last. At any time of the day you can get what I consider to be the most beautiful lighting in the world… window light.
In all it’s simplicity, window light sure is versatile. You can place your subject right next to the window for more pronounced shadows and highlights or you can move your subject several feet from the window and get a much softer diffused light.
And depending on the time of day, the thickness of the glass, the weather, etc – it will all change, which makes it not only very accessible but also very exciting to work with. You’ll never really know quite what you will get, but it will always be beautiful.