3 Natural Light Hacks for Portraits

Photography is about shaping light. And the best light is all around you—completely free. Having a good understanding of how to shape and make use of natural light is crucial to developing as a photographer. Photographer Sawyer Hartman shares three amazing lighting hacks to improve your photography:

1. Reverse Sun Bounce Hack

All you need for this hack is a reflector or some other large white reflective surface like cardboard. While we usually ask subjects to face the sun when shooting outdoors, the aim with this hack is to have the sun behind the subject.

“Turn your subject around so the sun is positioned behind them.”

This method has two benefits. First, it gives the hair a bit of edge lighting. Second, the back of the shoulders and the arms appear bright, thereby separating the subject from the background.

Once the subject is positioned, use the reflector to bounce light onto the subject. This fills up the shadows making, the subject appear brighter. And it adds some beautiful catchlights to their eyes.

natural light portrait using reflector

2. Contour and Shape the Face and Body

If you’re looking to highlight certain body features or make someone look physically fit, light them from the side. Lighting them from the front will light all the regions equally, and you’ll end up getting a flat image. On the other hand, turning them to the side will cause the formation of shadows that add depth and accentuate body structure.

using light to define body shape

The same principle is applicable to the face. With the sun above the jaw, you can get a nice shadow underneath that clearly defines the jawline.

using light to define jaw line

“What’s important is you start learning how to use light to shape your image rather than just to put light on your subject so you can take a photo.”

3. Door and Window Openings as Light Sources

You can’t expect the weather to always be in your favor. However, a challenging day doesn’t mean that you have to cancel your photography plans for the day. When indoors, windows and doors can act as great light sources.

“Using a door frame or a window frame, you can actually re-create the look of expensive Hollywood lights no matter what the weather is like outside.”

The opening will act as a huge light source directing light toward your subject. Get the subject to stand close to a door or window frame, and you’ll have a soft light source in the shape of the opening lighting your subject. To change the intensity of the light striking your subject, simply have them step outside or inside the door.

portrait taken near a window

So there you have it: three easy-to-follow natural lighting tips. Try them out and see what differences they make in your photography. Let us know how they affect the look of your images.

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