In the grand scheme of life, you have to take a moment and admit just how beautiful the sun can be. I know you can’t look directly at it (for a long period of time), but it is still beautiful none the less. It helps give life to our planet, and also makes for one hell of a light source for natural light photography. When I started with portrait photography in Dallas, I only used my camera and natural day light for shoots. Nothing else. No reflectors, no assistants, and no OCF (off camera flash).
Why would I do this you ask? Especially with the abundance of equipment available to portrait photographers? The answer was actually pretty simple. I wanted to keep my shoots simple, and I loved the results of natural light. It took some learning on how and where to pose my models, but in the end I got some great photos. Over 80% of my shoots are natural light, and I will continue to do more in the new year.
10 benefits of Natural Light Photography
Less equipment to carry
Have you ever tried to haul around equipment on a really hot summer day? Especially in the Texas heat? It is not fun. I have been an assistant on shoots, and I really didn’t enjoy lugging around the equipment every 20 mins during location changes. I have learned many photographers love using just natural light and reflectors. Reflectors are portable and usually fold up into small packages or cases.
Can shoot just about anywhere you want
I love the outdoors. I believe some of the greatest portrait backgrounds are when you put models in natural environments. I tend to look for shaded streets or alleyways. Also, I like finding great parks or lakes for shoots.
Can use walls, sidewalks, and buildings as natural light reflectors
I have learned that you can use natural assets around you as equipment. For example, sidewalks or white walls make for great reflectors. You just need to learn how to position your model so you can get the best light reflections possible.
Get beautiful colors at golden hour
One of the best times to shoot is sunset. Golden hour as it is referred too. You will get some beautiful colors and soft golden glow on your model. If you are really lucky, you will get clouds in the background that will reflect even more colors into the sky and in your photo.
Soft outdoor lighting during cloudy days
Many photographers do not realize that cloudy days make for amazing soft light photography. You don’t have to position your models in the shade. The clouds natural act as a deflector of light and bounce light in all directions. This makes it soft when it hits the model.
Can use natural light indoors or outdoors
Just like outdoors, I can use natural light indoors for studio shoots. I have been lucky to work in studios with large windows that let in lots of light. This can create some beautiful photos with natural soft light looks.
Gets you out of your studio comfort zone
If you are a studio junkie that never leaves the safety of your studio lights, then it is time to get out and soak up the sun. I find that sometimes, photographers will have external off-camera flashes to supplement lighting in the field.
Helps beginners start shooting faster
If you are wanting to get started with portrait photography fast, natural light is a great way to go. You don’t have to invest in lots of equipment. You can pretty much get away with using your camera and maybe a polarizer filter for your lens.
Take great lifestyle portraits
In natural light, you can also take some amazing lifestyle portraits. With the variances of the sun’s light, you can go from light to dark areas, and get contrasting shots. This will give your lifestyle portraits a more realistic look.
Makes for great landscape photography
Portrait photographers are not the only ones that can benefit from natural light. Landscape photographers and videographers rely on natural light to capture landscape scenes. Sunset photography makes for some of the most beautiful of the landscape photography I have seen.
Downsides of Natural Light Photography
You can’t predict the weather
Rain or harsh weather can always put a damper on shooting outdoors. In this scenario, I try to find good open parking garages, or open buildings to shoot. Just make sure you realize that some places are on private property so keep that in mind when shooting.
Sun can be harsh at times
Even thought the sun can be a great light source, it can create some really harsh shadows on your model. My recommendation is to find places that naturally bounce the suns light such as ally-ways, shaded walkways, or parks with lots of trees.
Summer heat or Winter cold can be uncomfortable
With natural light comes extreme hot or cold temperatures. You will get some of the best natural light opportunities during the spring or fall when the temperatures are in a nice pattern. Summer heats can wreak a models makeup and I don’t even have to talk about cold weather shoots.
You will get warm color tones
On a technical note, please remember to white balance for the sunset or natural light. You will tend to get very warm tones, so you will need to anticipate the changes in post or in camera.