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How to Use Natural Light to Your Advantage

  • Summerana 

Have you ever wondered how trained photographers master their craft in regards to natural lighting? I think we can all agree that lighting is one of the most important elements when it comes to your photos. It’s totally worth it to spend a little extra time to nail that perfect lighting in camera vs. trying to correct it while editing. Trust me, it’s not fun having to color-correct 500 photographs when you sit down to edit them. Read below to learn six unique ways to capture the perfect natural light for your photos.

Hard light vs. soft light
The type of natural light you are using is important and you can create different looks with each. Hard light comes from a small light source (such as a sky where the sun is bright and in the middle of the day) that creates a lot of contrast and harsh shadows. It can be used to create more drama and depth in your photos. Soft light is a large light source (such as an overcast day) that creates a soft subtle look with more even shadows.

There is no right or wrong light, and if you can master how to shoot in both settings you will be ready for any situations, whether that is a midday wedding with full blown sun or if you are shooting indoors without any light. With a trained eye for light, you will know to look for an open light source in that situation, such as a large window.

Controlling your light

To create directional light, try to eliminate all other light sources except for one. This might mean placing your subject against a tall building, against the wall where you can then face your subject with either the light in front of them or behind them. This might also mean, if you are indoors, covering up all of your windows except for one. Controlling your light source gives you the opportunity to pose your subjects around that one light and be in complete control.

How to find natural light sources
Natural light sources can be doors, archways, open shadow areas, windows, etc. To find open shade you can search for any place where your subject can stand without any direct light or hotspots on them. If you’re shooting in full sun, you can have your subject sit or stand with the sun behind them. This will create an even light on their front and keep the harsh sunlight behind them, it will also create a catchlight as the sky acts as a natural reflector.

Creating catchlights naturally
To create catchlights, you’ll need to be sure your lighting source has contrast. Meaning there is dark, and there is light. Such as a window, where the light is coming from the window but there is contrast and darkness in the area around the window.

Capturing light with the right tools
Finding and understanding natural light is one thing, but to be able to capture your light, you will need the right tools. Your camera will need a large sensor to be able to catch as many details as you can. You’ll also want to use a lens, such as a prime lens, that is meant to capture as much light as possible. Great lenses are 50mm, 85mm, 135mm, or a 70-200mm. Lastly, you’ll want a reflector.

Playing with light and getting creative
Once you learn more about shooting in natural light settings and controlling your light, you will find there are so many more opportunities you can play with to create different looks. For example, you can create silhouettes by placing the light source behind them and exposing for the background, or you can create a completely blown out glowing background look by exposing for them instead of the background. You can also play with colors, creating beautiful pops of color by placing your subject near colorful walls, doors, etc. that act as a reflector and bounces colorful light into your photos. Another few fun things are playing with shadow shapes (such as capturing your subjects shadows that are on the ground), and capturing reflecting light (such as water reflection).

There you have it, six creative ways to create and capture natural light in your photographs. Which tip is your favorite?

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