Using Natural Light / by Kaitlyn Luckow

If you’re starting out in the photography world and can’t afford all of the fancy lighting equipment, natural lighting can be your best friend. Not only that, but it is also important for advanced and professional photographers to understand how to best work with the sun in order to create stunning photos with just using natural light. Here are some things to keep in mind in order to use natural light in a way that will help you get the photos you want:

Time of Day

The most important thing to understand when using natural light is to be aware of the time of day you’re shooting. The sun’s temperature and intensity is different depending on the time of day, which can influence your photos.

If you are looking for a soft and flattering light that highlights the colors of landscapes or subjects, the best time to shoot would be at sunrise or sunset. Usually these times are considered the best times to shoot because the sun is lower in the sky, which can create for dramatic and effective lighting.

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If you’re looking for strong and harsh lighting, the middle of the day is the best time to shoot. However, this light may be too intense for some photographers, depending on the tones you’re looking for.

A third option to shoot at is during “blue hour”, which is the time right after the sun has set or right before it rises. During this time of day, the sun is right below the horizon and is still providing light to scene, though it is much softer. These soft color tones can provide a new perspective on a landscape.

Where to Shoot

When you’re working with the sun as your only source of lighting, it’s important to decide whether or not you want to shoot straight into the sun or to use the sun to highlight your subject.

You can have the sun shine straight into your subject which can create a bright and warm look (especially during sunrise and sunset hours).

Or you may decide that you want to shoot straight into the light. This may saturate your subject, or cause harsh shadows to create a silhouette of your subject. However, this technique may also create softer lines on your subject and provide a cool lens flare effect in the frame.

A third option is a combination of two in side-lighting. Here, you can sometimes get the best of both worlds, getting dramatic shadows and colors along with clear details.

Creating Shadows

Objects in your landscape with interesting and unique shapes can make for powerful shadows. Utilize nearby objects to create shadows or to frame your landscape shot. This can be particularly powerful when shooting black and white landscape photography. The contrast the shadows provide give the scene depth and interest. If you want the most dramatic shadows in your shot, the best time of day to shoot is mid-day where the contrast between light and shadows is the highest.

Shoot in All Weather

Some photographers may be hesitant to shoot landscapes when it’s rainy or overcast, but these can make for the most dramatic photos. Although the sun is not fully out on display to help with your lighting, the darker lighting that it still provides can be very effective to create moody or mystical tones.

Use fog, shadows, and clouds to your advantage to create interesting layers and depth of field in an otherwise plain landscape. Clouds can also act as a natural soft box to help diffuse the lighting in an otherwise harsh-lighting situation. Although the colors of the landscape may be different in full sunlight, colors are still just as vibrant and effective in overcast lighting.