5 Must-Know Tips For Shooting in Natural Light
Everyone knows one — the ultra-technical photographer that spends thousands of dollars on complicated lighting systems, strobes, reflectors, you name it. They squander frustrating hours perfecting their lighting set-up each time they produce a shoot. While this approach might be good for some photographers, oftentimes they’re missing out on what’s right in front of them: natural light.
Of course certain shoots require artificial light, but these days more and more agencies and brands are looking for images that convey a candid feeling, where the image and subjects feel natural, carefree, and in the moment. Shooting in natural light is perfect for capturing these types of shots. Plus, one of best things about natural light: it’s free, anyone can use it, and the only thing it takes is a bit of imagination and know-how. Luckily, one of the best photographers when it comes to shooting with natural light, Christian Ericksen, shares his five must-know tips for shooting in natural light, all in easy-to-understand terms.
“Backlight can be your friend, even though most automatic settings on cameras and mobile devices don’t know how to compensate for strong backlight — often results from those situations are lame. If you get bold and begin to use manual settings and really explore what you can do with exposure, you can begin to work with backlight. One thing I do while shooting in back-lit situations is to look for available ways to dial back how much light there is behind my subject. These can occur naturally — foliage from a high tree, a hill line, buildings, basically anything that falls into your line of sight and can kill a bit of that light intensity.”
“Sometimes getting away from exposing for your subject and thinking of exposing for your back light situation can lead to some pretty cool results. These are silhouettes and even the suggestion of a person or figure can lead to some fun results and often this lends itself to framing things differently, i.e. room for ad copy. Blowing out the back ground is also pretty darn fun! Give it a try, sometimes the results can be pretty sweet.”
“Super high key has a clean look and it starts to take on a haze that can be very pleasing. I can remember struggling with the idea that it was ok to blow out the background but once I started to play around with it, most of the results felt proper. These shots can be tricky and not all situations will cater to good results. Just be open to these ideas and start shooting them and it can get fun!”
“Its kind of a crazy thing when that switch goes off in your head and you realize the whole way you see things is based on cueing into light and how it’s working. So one of the things I’m always aware of while shooting is if there is any naturally occurring bounce light. I’m sure most of you have used reflectors, and I do too, but sometimes there is a great spontaneity of some light bouncing off the side of a white mini van parked next to your location, or down that alleyway where you’re getting great fill light as the sun is reflecting off the side of that building. Eyes up people, because it’s happening all around you! Take time to explore what that light can do and really spice up your images.”
“Ok this for me is a bit of a bummer but I can see how some photographers can use it and use it well, I’m just not one of those guys. When light hits color, that color is flying all around and probably getting on your subject in one way or another, depending on how close you are to it. I often see it when shooting outdoors and light is reflecting off grass and giving everything a green cast. Thanks, but no thanks. Be aware of it, is all I’m saying. When scouting locations I definitely think in terms of this and might not shoot at a particular time of day at a particular location due to that factor.”
“I’m pretty sure most natural light photographers will have a tendency to seek shade. I definitely know that shade and I are super tight, I love that guy! Shade is always a great place to get nice, even light. Its sort of a safe zone for shooting portraits and using natural light. There isn’t much to shooting in shade but there are some things I keep in mind while assessing shooting in a shaded situation. I usually get my best results shooting from the lightest portions of the shade into deeper darker areas of the shade. Try to avoid shooting from shade into very lit areas behind your subject. For example, if the sun is lighting a hillside behind your subject that is in shade, the exposure will compete and its not the best in my opinion, so I would say avoid it if you can. Those are the big ones, beyond that, it’s a bit of trial and error and finding out how you can use the ‘safe zone’ to work for your images.”
“Side note: when shooting indoors the basic shade rules are the same. Seek defused light and shoot like you’re shooting in the shade, because you probably are.”
When to Shoot
“It might be obvious, but a commitment to shooting later in the day or earlier in the morning will always benefit a natural light approach. When the light is rising or falling in the sky these are the best times to experiment with all this mumbo jumbo. Light is just nicer and easier to play with at these times. Golden light that comes from the sun setting always makes for super fun images. Move your talent around, find great back light, or if it’s right, just stick them right out in that gold light land see what happens. Also, once that sun sets and drops behind the horizon it doesn’t have to be over. Keep your subject facing that setting light and, for a bit, that light is amazing in its own right. Milk it!”
The Bottom Line
“I have so much fun being a natural light photographer and I hope this stuff helps you to get out there and have fun shooting with just a keen eye for light and your trusty rig. Oh, and don’t forget a willing subject. Trial and error are keys to getting this down, so don’t be afraid to pull the trigger and definitely explore what your camera can do with its manual settings. Be easy folks!”