In a world full of built-in flashes and cameras with automatic everything, it's easy to forget how rewarding natural light photography can be. Although getting great results without studio lighting equipment can be more challenging, using natural light can make you a more skilled photographer and often creates some truly stunning images. Many of photography's greatest minds swore by working with the environment rather than manipulating it. If you are up for the challenge, here are a few things to remember before shooting:
Control Your Light
You may not always be able to control the clarity or level of natural light, but you can always change how it interacts with your subject. For instance, when shooting in your home, you can open and close blinds or curtains to impact the level of light available in each room. This is also a great tactic for creating targeted directional light. If you're in a room with two light sources like windows, you can always cover one side to get the focus and direction of light that you want. Try moving around buildings and structures to see how your movement changes the way your pictures end up.
Dodge the Sun
Though it sounds reasonable that the best time to attempt natural light photography is when the sun is brightest, high noon is actually quite the opposite. The bright and direct light in the middle of the day can cause high contrast, hot spots and stark shadows in your pictures. If you do happen to want the harsh look of direct sunlight, then noon may be a good time. However, if you're looking for soft and even light for portraits, you'll get much better results in the early morning hours. Morning air has a sort of clarity to it that is hard to describe, but you'll immediately see the difference in your images. You will also find that overcast days are great for natural lighting of subjects as your pictures will be bright but lack harsh directional shadows.
Control Your Speeds
If you use a film camera instead of digital, you should use a medium range film speed like 400 to make sure you'll be able to shoot in most lighting situations. High and low speed films are incredibly situational and may end in your working around available light rather than with it, which can be time-consuming and cause missed shots. It's also good to choose a shutter speed for the day (you'll get good at judging these as time goes on) and only adjust the F-Stop, or vice-versa. The less things you have to remember during your photo shoot, the more "in the moment" you will be.
Shooting with natural light can be one of the most fun or most frustrating experiences a photographer can have. As you work more frequently in natural light photography, you should see more successes and fewer catastrophes. As always, remember to keep it fun and everything should turn out just fine.
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