7 Tips To Use Natural Light In Your Photography

We’ve always preferred natural light. You don’t have to carry around a ton of equipment – just your camera bodies and lenses. And for the most part, what you see is what you get – you will never be surprised by the way a flash hits your subject matter.

Tips for using natural light in your photography

1. Control when you shoot.
Concentrate on using the sweet light for all of your photographs. 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 mid-day sun whenever possible.
Mid-Day sunshine gives you your harshest shadows, and provides glare on both your subject and the background around you. If you will be shooting mid-day 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.

3. Be flexible in your posing.
In outside locations, it’s easy to have a favorite place to photograph. But depending on the time of day, you may be facing harsh sunlight and lots of shadows. Be flexible and have other areas that meet your needs. Move your subjects until you get them into the best position.

4. Use gobos and reflectors.
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.

5. 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 in the sun, they may be squinting and have a distorted face.

6. Use buildings and trees as natural gobos and reflectors.
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.

7. 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.

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We're the co-founders of VirtualPhotographyStudio.com and have been writing on this blog since 2004. We started Virtual as a way to help photographers stretch beyond a part time income, and develop strategies to become a Five Figure Photographer or a Six Figure Photographer. Ultimately its all about lifestyle, and if your goal is to live as a photographer 24/7, we think you should have the knowledge and the tools to do so. Welcome!

  • 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…