I will admit that I am a little snobby when it comes to anyone who proclaims to be a “natural light photographer”. To me “natural light photographer” essentially equals “beginner that doesn’t know how to use light”.
However, with a little influence from a certain ruthless stock editor some of my work has been evolving into a more natural and organic look, and I have to admit I am really starting to enjoy the simplicity!
In this article, I am going to describe how I used natural light to photograph this series of photos of a woman practicing the cello and discuss some of the characteristics of natural light photography.
Light is Light
Before we get started, lets just take a minute to remember that light is light – regardless of how it was produced.
Remember – there are only three characteristics of light: quantity, quality and color.
The big problem with restricting yourself to only use natural light is that the quantity and quality and sometimes color are seldom ideal for the scene being photographed.
Quantity of Natural Light
Quantity of natural light may seem simple at first since really we are just talking about exposure.
However, in this photo the exposure is not as simple as it may seem.
This natural light photo was taken on a sunny day in late afternoon. The sun is coming from upper camera right.
The overall exposure for this photo is set by the background exposure. I wanted the background to be light and overexposed to hide some of the details of the adjacent houses, but not too bright that it was blown out to white – I still wanted to keep some detail.
The interior of the room is mainly open shade, but there is a small slash of full sunlight cutting across the room.
Some of their rules can be bent. Others can be broken.
Morpheus to Neo
Traditionally, it is against the rules of natural light photography to place a subject in full sunlight – but for this photo I intentionally placed my beautiful female cellist directly in that slash of full sunlight.
The composition and angle that she is sitting are both intentional and arranged to take full advantage of that bright slash of sunlight, while at the same time the exposure on the bright side of my subject matches the background exposure.
Quality of Natural Light
It is a myth that natural light is by definition good quality light.
In fact, almost all natural light is atrocious – which is why self proclaimed “natural light photographers” (or at least the ones that know the rules) place their subjects in the shade. But once you can visualize the quality of light, you can use those qualities to your advantage.
In the photograph on the left, you can see that the full sunlight cutting across the subject is somewhat harsh, but the angle and direction at which it falls creates detail in the light and shadow areas.
However, as you can see on our cellist’s face, the overall contrast of the image is controlled by the soft even quality of the open shadow light in the rest of the room.
The photograph on the right is the edited version of the photo on the left. It shows the importance of editing natural light photos – as there are almost always areas of a natural light photographs that are not lit as well as they could be using artificial light.
In this case, I used the adjustment brush in Lightroom to slightly brighten the right side of her face and her hair to match the intensity of the brightest part of the photo – a viewer’s eye is always drawn to the lighter parts of a photo, and I wanted that to be her face.
Color Of Natural Light
Can you see a difference between the color of natural light in these two photos?
In the bottom photo, there are two colors of natural light. In the top photo, there is only one.
In both cases, the white window frame in the background is in open shade and was used to set the white balance.
In the top photo, the sun went behind a cloud, so our female cellist is no longer sitting in that swath of full sunlight.
But in the bottom photo, because daylight has a color temperature that is slightly warmer relative to the open shade light that was used to set the white balance, our pretty female cellist and her cello have a nice warm glow.
Know Your Audience
Speaking of ruthless stock editors, before I finished up with this photography session, I thought I should photograph something that aligned a little better with the look and feel of photography that sophisticated stock buyers are after these days.
My stock agency, Stocksy United is very big on real people doing real things, and I can appreciate that not many pretty women sit in their sun room practicing the cello wearing flawless makeup, a turquoise blue dress that matches the banding on their cello strings and gold heels – so we changed things up a bit…
Big ugly glasses? Check.
Minimal makeup? Check.
Plain everyday hair? Check.
Blue jeans and a plaid jacket? Check.
OK – that was a bit of a joke – it is my editor’s job to know what style photos are in demand any my job to meet that demand…so guess which images made the cut?
Are You A Natural Light Photographer?
How do you use natural light in your photography?
Have you returned to natural light after mastering lighting – or have you never moved on from natural light?
Leave a comment below and let us know!