When taking photographs, light is, without doubt, the most important thing to look out for. Without light, there would be no photographs. This light could come in the form of an indoor light, a flash or a computer screen. However, to get the best results when taking a photo is to work with the natural light that is available. This could be directly from the sun if you’re outside, or through a window, if you’re indoors.
Natural light has its advantages. To name the obvious, it’s free and you don’t have to carry it around with you! Natural light leads to natural looking photos, which are preferable if you want a realistic look. In contrast, if you want a more stylistic look you can also use natural light for this by manipulating it.
Yet natural light is not always easy to work with. It is powerful, ever-changing and unpredictable at times. By getting familiar with it, you can use it to your advantage and create great images. Here is some advice on natural light and how to control it…
The best time to shoot…
Sunrise and Sunset
As mentioned in previous blogs, around these times of the day are prime times for photography. The sun is lower in the sky and casts a light that glows and has a cooler tone in the morning and a redder hue in the evening. If you are interested in landscape photography, this is your time to photograph, while you take advantage of the best time of day for natural light.
Sunrise is a great time to shoot because it’s always quieter and more tranquil. You’re unlikely to get the hordes of tourists and there’s stillness at this time of day you can’t find at any other time.
If shooting at sunset, turn your camera to something other than the sun. There are millions of sunset photos out there that all look the same, but the light the sun casts at this time is incredibly flattering, so use it!
Time to avoid shooting…
Direct sunlight is strong and should be avoided, especially when taking portraits. The harsh light means there is little detail in the highlights, and skin tones are poor. Photos will look bleached-out.
If direct light is your only option, use it creatively by playing with the position of your subject in relation to the sun. This can lead to interesting silhouettes, reflections, and strong contrasts. Another solution is to use a diffuser, which we’ll come to a bit later on.
Shade and Shadows and Flare
If there is direct light and you’re looking for a softer look, seek shade! This could be a tree canopy, the side of a building, a forest or alleyway. This will give the illusion of a more overcast day, therefore softer features in your subject.
When the sun is lower in the sky, it creates long stretched out shadows. These can create unusual shapes that you should experiment with. By trying out different angles and positions, you can create artistic images where the shadows are the focal point.
Another feature that the sun allows you to experiment with is the lens flare. By shooting directly into the sun, you can capture the sunrays and create artistic and ethereal photos. Ensure the shot isn’t overexposed then position your subject within the frame in a way that you find interesting.
Watch out for…
The idea that the ‘better’ the weather, the better the photo is a common misconception. Rainy, overcast and foggy weather are a just a few conditions that give images a more interesting and expressive result.
Overcast days are best for portraits as the light is more diffused. Features are softer and there’s no risk of harsh shadows. These conditions are good for capturing objects and people on the streets as well as action shots. You may think the outcome is a little ‘flat’ but this can be altered easily through post-editing.
If it’s an overcast day, get out there with your phone camera and get snapping!
Capturing natural light when you’re…
When taking photos inside, take a second to look and around and work out where the natural light is coming from. Is it a window? Or is it from an open doorway? Where is this light source in relation to what you want to photograph?
Windows are a great way to play with and control natural light. It can result in very striking and dramatic images. This is especially the case when you incorporate curtains or blinds that manipulate the light. Again be careful of the direct light, unless you want to create silhouettes. Don’t place your subject directly in front of the window as you’ll lose all detail. Perhaps place your subject to the side so that the lighting is less harsh and confronting. This will allow for greater detail and a more textured image that is more interesting to look at.
For better results, use a…
Reflectors are a great way to control and balance natural light. This tool allows you to bounce light and fill in the shadows. This means shadows are removed and the contrast is lower, therefore, giving a softer outcome.
If you’re strapped for cash, you can create a reflector with a large sheet of white paper or if you’re outside, a large pale-colored wall should do the trick.
Using a diffuser is also an option to soften the light both indoors and outdoors. This weakens the light source so the subject is not exposed to such harsh light. Use thin netting over a window if the light is too strong. You can also diffuse the light by playing with the camera lens and stretching materials over it such as cling film or even breathing on the lens just before shooting.