Natural Lighting

One negative of being self-taught in your trade is that the fundamental lessons of the craft can often be overlooked.  Which is why I have been implementing #TrainingThursdays to my weekly to-do schedule where I push all my work aside to watch videos, read blogs, articles, books, etc., that other creatives have so kindly pieced together for the rest of us.  But whoa, I digress.  Today, I want to share something that I learned later in my photography career that I wish I had learned much earlier--shooting with natural lighting.

I quickly learned that my style of photography relied on a natural lighting source (daylight) versus an artificial lighting source (flash gear).  What took me quite some time to figure out though, was how to utilize the available natural lighting most optimally.  Most assume the best time of day to shoot is when the sun is at its highest and brightest.  Is it so terrible that I secretly get excited when I wake up to gloomy weather on my client's wedding day?  Happy dance...every time.  But I promise it comes from a good place!  Here's why:

When the sun is at its brightest, harsh shadows are cast on the subjects faces and it washes out the details that I like in my photos.  You get a hybrid of the overexposed and the underexposed.  For the style I aim for, this is unflattering and takes away from the feel of the photo.  So how do I stay true to my style while optimizing natural lighting?  Here are a few tips and tricks:

1) Sunrise or Sunset: The best hours to shoot in the day are within the first hour of sunrise and the hour before sunset aka the golden hour.  During these times, the amount of natural lighting emitted from the skies are just right and spread evenly around the subject.  The hour after sunrise can emit a soft dewy pink or blue-ish glow.  The hour before sunset will usually emit a golden glow.

Ex) This was shot one hour before sunset--the perfect golden hour.

Ex) This was shot one hour before sunset--the perfect golden hour.


2) Bad Weather is Good Weather: Gloomy skies are perfect because they soften and diffuse the suns harsh light.  Like I said...happy dance. 

I remember how excited I was on this day because I woke up to so much cloud coverage!  No harsh shadows, no missed details, no harsh lighting. 

I remember how excited I was on this day because I woke up to so much cloud coverage!  No harsh shadows, no missed details, no harsh lighting. 


3) Shoot in Shade: You can't always rely on sunrise, sunsets, and gloom.  When you find yourself stuck shooting in broad daylight, you can place subjects in shaded areas to avoid harsh shadows.

I remember the sun peeking out on this day and it being a little brighter than I wanted.  So I hid these two under the shade of this tree.

I remember the sun peeking out on this day and it being a little brighter than I wanted.  So I hid these two under the shade of this tree.


4) Use Your Surroundings to Create Light: Sometimes, the natural light may not highlight the subject evenly.  When this happens, you'll find that one side of the subject is perfectly lit but the other side is too shaded or dark.  In this case, the best thing you can do is use an assistant with a light reflector OR you can use your surrounding (light wall, white pillow, light canvas, concrete, etc.) to bounce light back to the under-lit portions of the subject.

It was a bright and sunny day so I placed the subject in the shade of this building.  The white wall on the right side of this photo helped bounce back natural light evenly along the right side of this face.

It was a bright and sunny day so I placed the subject in the shade of this building.  The white wall on the right side of this photo helped bounce back natural light evenly along the right side of this face.


5) Maximize Outdoor Lighting for Indoor Shoots: Shooting indoors can be tricky because in most cases, natural lighting tends to be limited, and if available, it is typically too directional.  The best thing you can do here is play with the lighting and your surroundings to create even light. 

My boudoir studio is a small bedroom with a tiny window to the right of this photo.  I picked the time of day where I knew light would be shining in through the window best and had the model face the window to brighten her face.  To the left of the model and out of frame, I have a white painted closet that acts as a natural reflector.  Although it brought in a descent amount of light, it still wasn't bright enough so I had to go in Lightroom/Photoshop to increase the lighting on the left side of this shot.

My boudoir studio is a small bedroom with a tiny window to the right of this photo.  I picked the time of day where I knew light would be shining in through the window best and had the model face the window to brighten her face.  To the left of the model and out of frame, I have a white painted closet that acts as a natural reflector.  Although it brought in a descent amount of light, it still wasn't bright enough so I had to go in Lightroom/Photoshop to increase the lighting on the left side of this shot.

Remember, the best way to understand natural lighting is to practice and play with it yourself.  Practice is key! 

Hope this helped!  Feel free to ask me any questions!

xoxo,
Hannah Q.