Natural Light vs. Artificial Light: Can You Really Tell the Difference?

A perpetual question in photography: is it better to use natural or artificial light? Each has its respective pros and cons, but many photographers might feel uneasy when trying to replace natural lighting with a strobe. Felix Kunze and Sue Bryce show us how–when used carefully–strobes can convincingly mimic the look and feel of natural light:

In the video, all the images shown on the left are shot with natural light, while the images on the right are shot with the strobe. The results are quite surprising–so much so that Kunze mistook a strobe image for one with natural lighting.


Natural Light (left) vs. Strobe (right)

The Benefits of Using Strobe Lighting

The beauty in being able to create natural looking images with a strobe is that it allows maneuverability when photographing. A strobe is a ceaseless light source that will shine at any time of the day; with it, you can add night shoots to your repertoire.

The strobe also comes in first when dealing with slower shutter speeds. Bryce was shooting at shutter speeds from 1/125 (as low as 1/30) and at a higher ISO of 640 and yielded sharper, more detailed images with the strobe. She states,

“When you see the enlargement on the eyes, the strobe does beat me in detail, and it was really quite interesting that the strobe images were softer than natural light images. There was more detail in the background in all of the strobe images, and I feel very confident that I can create strobe images that look like my style of natural light after seeing this.”


Natural Light (left) vs. Strobe (right)

The Benefits of Using Natural Light

The catchlights and fall of shadows appear almost identical in the images, and as Bryce explains, it was sometimes only through the numbering system of the photographs that the images could be distinguished as natural versus artificial. But of course, strobe lighting cannot always compete with the beauty of natural light. In some cases, the striking fall of light on a subject and the mood of the image can be lost.


Natural Light (left) vs. Strobe (right)

Strobe vs. Speedlight

Bryce also compares natural lighting to that of strobe and Speedlight. The natural and strobe images can compete with each other, but outclass the Speedlight results.


Natural Light vs. Strobe vs. Speedlight

However Bryce explains that using a Speedlight is still a very good first step:

“If you could pull of a shoot and a Speedlight with what you have, and then afford with that first sale to go and buy yourself a strobe, you’ve already upgraded your career instantaneously with one job.”

It’s evident that with a bit of troubleshooting it is possible to create natural looking results while using an artificial light source. Which effect do you prefer?

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  1. frank says:

    Its obvious that with this statement…

    “If you could pull of a shoot and a Speedlight with what you have, and then afford with that first sale to go and buy yourself a strobe, you’ve already upgraded your career instantaneously with one job.”

    Speedlights have qualities, characteristics and quantities of light that differ from strobes …. you dont have to be a scientist to know this… but that said.. it also a completely different instrument. Its like any other photo instrument. You learn the limitations and process then you maximize its use.

    The master of this is Joe Mcnally. He uses strobes but has no qualms in using speedlights in his work and they are awesome.

  2. The beauty and softness of natural light will always win, providing you find the right area to shoot in of course, speedlights have there place too and can be very affective in the right hands.

  3. Joachim says:

    It is interresting as the flash was used for me and maybe for others as well. Or is it a secret?

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