Using Natural Light in Photography
Selecting the Perfect Light Intensity
Bright and sunny days tend to produce direct light that can be quite unforgiving. Harsh light such as this creates a much greater contrast between shadows and light that are often unflattering when shooting portraits. However, when certain filters are used, the negative effects of harsh light can often be reduced.
When using diffused light, the contrast is much less intense, which is typically more flattering. During periods of harsh light, such as mid-day, there are some specific ways to diffuse light. Filters have already been mentioned, but nothing diffuses light better than shade. When using structures to provide shade, subjects should be completely covered by the shade. Any existence of direct sunlight can diminish the quality of the photograph. If there is no shade available in the chosen location, then the use of a reflector can work wonders.
Overcast or partially cloudy days are perfect for natural light photography, because clouds are natural light diffusers. However, a fill flash may be necessary in order to create enough contrast to highlight a subject’s features.
Controlling the Colour of Light
Light can be cool and have a tint of blue, or it can be warm and possess a golden tint. Cameras do not automatically adjust to see the same colours under different lighting situations like our eyes do, so using white balance is extremely important. Cameras provide white balance settings that you can select according to the type of light you are working with, such as cloudy, shade, or sunny.
Unfortunately, these settings do not produce the correct colour in photographs all of the time. For the best results, you should develop a custom white balance. This can easily be done by simply using a gray card that allows you to set a custom white balance for every shot that you take.
Picking the Best Light Direction
Knowing the direction of sunlight is critical for beginner and professional photographers alike. Most people assume that direct sunlight is the best option for highlighting a subject’s features, but this is usually not the case. In addition to making a person squint, direct sunlight can also create shadows around the eyes of a person, or not provide enough contrast when photographing landscapes.
Instead, positioning a subject with the sun directly behind a person provides a nice backlight that creates radiant highlights around the face. When the subject is a person, a fill flash or reflector can fill in shadows and brighten the face. Light coming in from the side can produce some splendid photographs, but you must be wary of nose shadows that can ruin an otherwise perfect picture.
If the challenge of positioning your subject correctly in relation to a light source seems daunting, this exercise can help you determine which direction the light is coming from and where it is falling. Simply position your subject where you would like to photograph them and place yourself where you plan to take the shot from. Then, walk towards your subject and circle them, paying close attention to the angles of the light. Repeat this process again, except this time have your subject turn with you as well. You should see the light change on their face while they face each direction. Pay close attention to the shadows that are created, the effect the light has on the vibrancy of their eyes, and how the light highlights their features. After establishing the best direction, all that is left to do is take the photograph.
Distinguishing between the benefits of different lighting conditions and learning how to manipulate light to create perfect photographs will take some time. As you spend more and more time noticing the different qualities of light, you will become increasingly adept at positioning your subjects for beautiful photographs, regardless of the lighting conditions. Just remember, as with anything in life, practice makes perfect.