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Tips For Leveraging Natural Light in Your Photography

Creative Market March 29, 2024 · 4 min read

In your studio, you have complete control over the environment. When you venture out for a shoot, you relinquish some of that control to capture more natural moments. Whether you’re looking to photograph picture-perfect moments with friends or just some appealing landscapes, you need to be prepared to adapt to the existing lighting. This ability is crucial for any photographer, regardless of the quality of the camera.

Outdoor Lighting

Each time of day offers different levels of contrast and saturation, which greatly affect the kind of photos your camera will produce. The time frames with the most impact on lighting are sunrise and sunset (otherwise known as the Golden Hour), morning and evening, and midday.

Sunrise and Sunset

When the sun is lowest in the sky, it casts glorious, long shadows. This lighting offers warm colors and a nice level of contrast. Try to find an area where the light is not being blocked by trees or buildings. Face your subject toward the light to get the full range of benefits that this lighting offers. If you’re feeling ambitious, reverse your position and place the subject in front of the light source to get a nice silhouette effect like this one. You must work quickly to beat the sun as it changes position. Once the sun rises, you’ll need to make adjustments for morning light, which is similar to evening light.

After Sunrise and Before Sunset

As the sun moves farther away from the horizon, the shadows become a little shorter. These shadows are still substantial enough to give your photos dimension, but the photos sometimes come out looking a little plain. Be sure to include some unique angles and perspectives to make your photo more interesting, like this photographer did.

As the morning light fades into bright sunlight at high noon, you must once again adapt to a whole new lighting environment.

High Noon

When the sun rises to its highest point in the sky, it creates a very high-contrast environment. This is a tricky time for shooting, but you can still get some great photos in this light. When you have the opportunity, try positioning your subject under a large source of shade. If there’s no shade around, and you’re having difficulty getting a good shot in this light, try moving closer to your target. This allows your camera to pick up the subtle details that the overbearing light would otherwise obscure, like the individual blades of grass in this photo.

Indoor Lighting

The next hurdle all photographers must overcome is using their cameras in an indoor environment. If you’re at a friend’s house, you can simply ask to open the blinds and let more natural light in. If you’re photographing at night or at a public place, this option isn’t always available to you. Instead of adjusting the light, position your subjects near any light source you can. Window light with a dark background can make for some especially beautiful shots.

General Advice

Even in the most limiting of circumstances, you can fall back on your camera’s settings. Regardless of the lighting situation, always check to see if your white balance needs adjusting. Try playing with your shutter speed, aperture and ISO settings as well. If all else fails, use your flash as a last resort. Flash is a blessing and a curse, because it illuminates the scene while washing out the shadows. If you try to make the most of the natural light instead of resorting to your flash, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised by the results.

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