Light is something that most people take for granted in their day-to-day lives. But things change once behind a camera! Natural light is free to use and learning how to master that can easily improve any types of photography. Ways to use natural light depends on location, the weather conditions and time of day and also intensity, its quality, and its direction. Natural light in unpredictable- that is an advantage and also disadvantage of that type of light.

Quality of the Light

In photography education the quality of light is often described with words as hard light or soft light. This is very important especially for portrait photography, because soft light is often the most flattering light for peoples’ faces. When seeing light it is equally important to see the highlights as it is seeing the shadows. The transition between these two helps understand the quality of light. Extremely soft light is when transition is more gradual and is perfect for flattering a person’s face. Hard light is not so flattering because that quick transition to shadow will call attention to any wrinkles or blemishes on subject’s face.

Basic tip with natural light is to avoid hard light, which can be seen during midday. That leaves really strong shadows and doesn’t look good. Hard light is best at either end of the day, shortly after the sun has risen and just before it sets. Photographers call this period the golden hour, because of the quality of the light. The advantage of hard light is bringing out bright colors.

Soft light is the type of light that can be found in a shade of a cloudy day. It has very little contrast. Soft light is used on taking portraits, it gives a better general mood on the photos. Photographing sky on a cloudy day can just come out white.

Different form of light

One of the most interesting forms of natural light is the back light. It also has a lot of contrast but is places behind the subject. Best time to use it is in the beginning or end of the day. Back lighting is good for landscapes, portraits and architecture. Dramatic light is created by dramatic weather such as a thunderstorm. Dramatic light is ideal for photographing landscapes, seascapes and architecture - almost anything outside. At sunrise and sunset the light is beautiful and full of colors. It has the potential to be any of the types of light: soft, hard or dramatic. As the outdoor conditions change, so will the quality of the light. The quality of the daylight can be hard or soft and may have a cool or a warm color tone.

Natural light or artificial?

There really no right answer which is better. Sometimes artificial light is better than natural light and vice versa. Natural light is much harder to control. Artificial light in is good to use in commercial, product photography and fashion photography. Both types of light have pros and cons. For photographers who are just beginning then natural light is better for learning the basics. Artificial light is constantly available throughout the day and night. Choosing between natural and artificial light depends also on the type of photography. For example landscape photographers cant modify the light available on the location. Natural light produces beautiful skin tones for relaxed and natural feel.

Natural light is everywhere. Interesting to remember that moon is also a natural source of light. There are several apps that predict different types of light. There are iPhone and Android apps to help locate the angle of the sun. A great free app to locate the sun once inside a client’s home is Sun Surveyor Lite.

Finding the sun and working with shade

Not all windows are equal size and when trying to find the best spot in the house to shoot in, knowing where the sun is and where it’s going to move to during the shoot helps a lot. Photography education teaches also that shade is a great tool. It protects from the heat and camera strap tan lines. It also offers a variety of photographic opportunities without needing to hold a big diffusion panel or reflector overhead. However, not all shade is created equal, and some shaded areas offer up natural reflectors to really make photos stand out.

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