10 Natural Light Photography Tips for Flawless Images

We’ve always preferred natural light. You don’t have to carry around a ton of equipment – just your camera body and lenses. And for the most part, what you see is what you get. We need to understand how natural light works so we can use it to improve our photographs.

Below are the best natural light photography tips as told by professional photographers that have mastered the use of natural light in their works.

1. Control When You Shoot

deer shot during golden hour

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

This is one of the most popular of all natural light photography tips. Concentrate on using sweet light for all of your photographs. There are many different kinds of light but we can place them into three general categories: sunrise, middle of the day, and twilight.

Most photographers enjoy shooting during the golden hour – that’s when the sweet light hits. Sweet light is the light at daybreak and at dusk – the beautiful light that highlights the detail, yet doesn’t overwhelm you with harshness.

2. Avoid Midday Sun Whenever Possible

Midday sunshine gives you your harshest shadows, and provides glare on both your subject and the background around you. If you will be shooting midday for something unavoidable – a wedding or event – scope out the area before hand to find your best areas.

Look for trees and buildings that you can use in your background, and will block out the majority of the sun’s glare.
A white building can make a great reflector, and brighten up a subjects face, or give highlights to the overall scene. Or tuck your subject back into a group of trees to soften the look, and provide nice highlights for the portrait.

3. Use Gobos and Reflectors

shooting with reflectors

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Always make sure you have a variety of gobos and reflectors ready to use to block, reflect and manipulate the sunlight. Reflectors are made from a variety of materials, and can help you do everything from blocking out the heavy sun rays, to adding a soft, warm glow to the skin.

White, silver and gold are three of the most popular surface colors. White reflectors deliver subtle results, while silver ones provide a bit of punch and the gold reflectors offer a warmer look. A lot of reflectors come with different color surfaces on either side. Choose the one that works best with the light you were given.

4. Add a Bit of Drama

Light exaggerates facial expressions, which is why you need to take advantage of this. For example, when photographing elder individuals, low light is actually your friend. This type of light can exaggerate their lines and wrinkles and make for a stunning, dramatic portrait.
For best results, try shooting at different angles and don’t be afraid  to position your subject to your best liking.

5. Rely on the ISO

When light is failing, one of the best natural light photography tips is to pump up the ISO. While no one is thrilled about going too high, you may be left with no other options. If you have to go up to 12,000, then by all means do so. Say you’re shooting indoors, you may have to use ISO 2,000 or 3,000 frequently. When working with bad light, there’s no other way to be in control of how your picture will turn up.

6. Use the Aperture Priority Mode

Bluebonnet shot at different apertures

Image Source: Pinterest

With the Aperture Priority mode, users get to choose the aperture. This is especially useful when doing indoor natural light photography where you often have to work with low light. You need to let in as much light as you can. The lower the f-stop, the wider the aperture.

Do keep in mind that with a wide aperture, you get a shallow depth of field. This means that the background will be blurry while your subject will be in focus. If you’re into portrait photography or shooting product photos, this may very well be the best use of indoor natural light.

7. Always Focus on the Face

Even if you’re creating an environmental image, and the subject is just a part of the final scene, make sure your subject has a natural look. If you place them directly into the light source, they may be squinting.

For a dramatic look, place the subject with one side of their body to the light source. However, you need to be careful not to obscure the other part too much. Your goal is to illuminate a part of the face while also creating discreet shadows on the other.

8. Don’t Reschedule on Cloudy and Rainy Days

Clouds can create natural light boxes, and give you soft filtered light anywhere you go. Though you do need to be careful not to get your camera wet on rainy days, the rain can enhance a portrait, and give you a totally new perspective with your subject matter. Learn to play with what you have, and be creative with the opportunities given.

Although shooting on a cloudy day provides a cool, soft light that may actually complement some elements in your pictures, it often makes for dull photographs. If you can’t avoid shooting during cloudy days, you’ll need to correct white balance and color casting during post-processing.

9. Shoot with Post-processing in Mind

Cameras have limitations and if you’re unfortunate enough to shoot during midday, then you may be left with what may appear as unusable photographs. We can’t always wait for the light to change or move our subjects for flawless portraits. So one of the best natural light photography tips you’ll find is work with what you have because you will eventually edit the photographs.

Shoot with post-processing in mind. This allows you to overexpose or underexpose because you have the option of recovering some of the lost details. You can use the photographers’ favorite –  Photoshop – or the free GIMP photo editor.

10. Continue to Experiment

No matter how many natural light photography tips you read, the best way to learn how to use natural light is to experiment continuously. This is one of the best things of shooting digital – we can afford to shoot as many snapshots as we want. You’re probably going to end up deleting most of the pictures, but your future ones will turn out to be true masterpieces.

Summing Up

Using these natural light photography tips should improve the quality of your shots and help you make the most out of difficult shooting conditions. As a rule, if you have the option, try setting the time of your photo shoot during the golden hours.

If not, don’t worry – experiment as much as you can and don’t stress too much about the outcome because you can always rely on post-processing to fix some of the issues.

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susan@sofasandsectionals.com' About Susan Black

Susan is an amateur interior designer and also has passion for photography and dance. She currently writes on behalf of her favorite reclining loveseat retailer.

  • Luckily for us photographers in the Pacific Northwest (at least the coastal areas), #7 is a benefit we get on a regular basis. Some of my best portrait images have been shot on cloudy days.

  • very informative tips!

  • Good, basic tips that any professional should already know. But apparently some don’t, as I just saw some kids portraits on a photographer’s website, photographed outdoors, with bright sunspots on parts of kids faces – not attractive. I’d expect to see that on some casual snapshots by a parent, but not displayed on the website of a professional business.

  • Great article! Although I’m certainly not “against” using artificial light at all, I still like to use only natural light when possible. The only thing I might add to that is, where possible, use fast lenses (wide apertures) so that you make the most out of whatever light is available…