How to Use Natural Light for Portrait Photography

The single most essential tool for any photographer is light. A good photographer constantly searches for the light that best illustrates a scene or subject and doesn’t hesitate to use modifiers to perfect their shots. However, light modifiers aren’t always necessary when trying to get an excellent shot. What the sun has to offer naturally is often all that’s needed to produce beautiful results:

With the help of photographer Mark Wallace, we compiled some of the basic dos and don’ts that come with utilizing natural light for portraiture.

DO seek out soft, even lighting. Residual light bounced into areas of shade often contain the sort of soft, naturally flattering light that’s easiest to work with. To make up for the fact that light modifiers are not in play, a foreground and background with similar exposure values is crucial in avoiding severely over or under exposed areas. Finding a setting that has the same amount of light throughout the camera’s range of vision is advantageous.

open shade example

DO consider how different types of bounce light can impact an image. Concentrated pockets of directional light create shadows that sculpt and define the faces of human models. Bright, open areas of sunlight bouncing into shade often produce a flatter light that can be helpful in creating specular highlights.

DON’T place your model in harsh, direct sunlight. These sort of conditions are rarely flattering and often quite difficult to work in without neutral density filters on hand.

unflattering shadows from direct sunlight

DO look out for distracting shadows that might be cast onto your subject’s face. In daylight, it’s not unusual for dark shadows to show up under the eyes; that can be distracting to viewers.

DON’T head inside if the sun ducks behind clouds. Overcast skies can actually be quite advantageous when taking photographs outdoors, as clouds serve as natural diffusers. The contrast between the ground and sky is minimized, making it easier to catch all of the details in a scene without supplemental lighting. In addition, unflattering shadows are often eliminated when the sun is shrouded by clouds.

Compositional elements such as line, color, and shape can strengthen a photograph, but the fundamental component to a great image is great light. Explore your surroundings and experiment. Doing so is the key to learning how to create stunning images, regardless of the surrounding circumstances.

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