August 22, 2018 | 5823 Views | By Dylan Kotecki

Essential Natural Lighting Photography Tips & Tricks

Lighting is one of the essential elements of photography. It will make or break a photo. Whether it’s natural light or artificial lighting, as photographers, we are continually chasing great lighting for our next images. The good thing is that it is all around us whether it’s coming from the sun or light bulbs in your house. Our job is to take that light and apply it in interesting ways to highlight our subjects. From people to mountains to food, everything looks better with a little light.

In This Article

From time to time, however, we may not have the best lighting for what we’re shooting, which is why we’re here to provide the best natural light photography tips and tricks. I’m going to give you a few ways I conquer difficult lighting situations and how to take advantage of using natural lighting in your photography.

Advantages of Using Natural Light in Photography

Natural light is the best lighting of all for photographers. It’s the light coming from the sun or moon. The light that shines on your face in the morning through your window to wake you up. Depending on the time of day you will likely have very different lighting conditions. If you have a bright, sunny day with no clouds, your photo subjects will also be well-lit with strong shadows. Using the light to your advantage is key here.

Sometimes it’s hard to find exciting light when it’s bright outside, but it works well for shooting street and urban type scenes where harsh shadows are typical. High angles look great when everything is exposed well, so drones are a great thing to fly on bright days.

Expert natural lighting photography tips

If you’re having trouble with shadows, try using them to help your composition.

Recommendations for photographing with natural light

It’s a lot easier to get interesting lighting on overcast or cloudy days. If you’re looking for a softer light and mellower shadows, an overcast day might help. A gloomy day is one of my favorite days to shoot portraits because of how the soft light works on people.

Tips for natural lighting photography involving human subjects

Overcast days also work great for lifestyle or street photography because everything is evenly lit and there aren’t many harsh shadows. Landscapes are also great on overcast or gloomy days because the weather can make the photo feel more moody or exciting. With overcast days often come fantastic clouds. Clouds provide nice backgrounds for landscapes and portraits or even your subject themselves. Depending on what you’re shooting it’s always smart to check the weather if you’re planning to use natural light.

Proven natural light photography tips and tricks

Tips for Manipulating Natural Light in Your Photos

There are many ways to manipulate natural light in photos. If you’re shooting a mountain peak, there’s not much you can do. If you’re shooting a subject such as a person or a plate of food, there are several ways you can manipulate natural light that will help you collect numerous well-exposed shots.

Using natural light in photography

Using Windows To Create Natural Light

The first easy way I like to use natural light to my advantage is through windows. If I’m shooting inside, I’m generally shooting near a window if I can. If you have an overcast day with softer light, window light can work great to light your subjects. I like to photograph food in front of windows because they generally provide the right amount of light to make my subjects come to life.

How to shoot the best portraits with natural light

Using Reflectors To Bounce & Control Natural Light

Another great tool to use to manipulate natural light is a reflector. Reflectors are relatively inexpensive and can be game changers when it comes to natural light. Reflectors come in all shapes in sizes but generally, they come in silver, white, or gold and you use them to reflect or “bounce” light from a light source onto your subject. They are great in all lighting situations because you can control the angle, amount, and type of light that is reflected. If you are looking for a softer light, you can bounce the light off the white reflector. To achieve a stronger light, use the silver or gold reflectors.

Reflectors are an excellent tool for any photographer looking to control natural light. Most come in different colors and a diffuser. Diffusers are a little transparent, so they diffuse light. You can view the one I own here. I’ve used it for years, and it still works great.

Using diffusers to manipulate natural light

Modifying Natural Light With Diffusers

Diffusers are also great for making the most of your lighting situations. They subdue hard light to make it softer. I like to use diffusers on bright sunny days for portraits and other subjects. I generally hold the diffuser up in front of my subject’s face, and I can get nice soft light. If you don’t have access to a diffuser, you can use wax paper or semi-transparent sheets, or shower curtains. You would be surprised at how well they work. For this shot, I just held up a diffuser on a bright day to soften the light on his skin and help him not squint.

The advantages of photographing humans in natural light

A professional reflector or diffuser kit from an online camera store or Amazon is going to be your best friend when manipulating natural light, but they aren’t always accessible. If you’re not looking to spend much money or you don’t have a camera store nearby, you can always head to Wal-Mart and buy a white piece of poster board. White poster board is an excellent reflector for light and is incredibly inexpensive. You can use it as you would a reflector and hold it up to the light. You’ll be surprised at how much light is reflected.

Those are a few cheap ways you can control your natural light situations. If you find yourself in a tricky situation with light, remember that there are a lot of household and inexpensive options out there that you can use to create your next gorgeous photo.

Enhance Your Natural Lighting Shots with ON1 Photo RAW

One comment on “Essential Natural Lighting Photography Tips & Tricks”

  1. On August 27, 2018 at 6:31 am James Whyte wrote:

    James Whyte

    Thanks Dylan, another good learning article.

Leave a Comment