natural light photography

Natural Light Photography : A Beginner’s Guide

When it comes to capturing stunning images, natural light photography is always going to be your best friend, no matter who your subject is. The right lighting can completely make or break this type of image and be the difference between an ordinary photo of someone’s face and a memorable, emotion-provoking photo. Lighting truly is that powerful.

Natural Light Photography

Of course, the easiest way to shoot a photo you can adjust, manipulate and manage all of the lights in an enclosed space to get the perfect backdrop you need. When you shoot outdoors, you don’t have that luxury. However, you do have the luxury of getting to use a free and natural lighting source instead of investing in flashes, strobes and modifiers.

Your Camera Settings

While shooting an outdoor photos using natural light, you may be investing in a cheaper option, but it doesn’t mean shooting without all of the extra lighting equipment is necessarily easier. This is why you need to start with the right gear, the right settings and to consider these tips in order to get a stunning, natural light photography you can be proud of.

Choose the Right Mode

Before you start snapping away for your perfect natural light photo, you need to make sure your camera is on the right mode. With so many variables that come with this type of photography, it is always best to shoot in manual mode, so that you have total control over your settings. It requires a little more work and a little more thought, but it really will make all of the difference.

Death Valley Sunset Photography

Cloudy Sunsets can add a stunning mood to your photos.

Choosing Your Aperture

Have you ever noticed some of the best natural light photos are those with a clear image of the subject and a nice soft blurred background. In order to get this type of result, you need to use the largest aperture possible. That is the key.

The best option is a f/1.8, but it can be quite a big investment as the larger the aperture, the more expensive the lens. If you aren’t quite ready to make that type of investment anything f/4 or bigger will work as well.

An important note about positioning, while the right aperture can make all of the difference, if you are just getting started and don’t have this type of professional lens, there are some things you can do to still get a similar effect. Simply put some separation between the subject and the background that you are looking to blur. It will naturally help create that focus on the subject, and it will draw the viewer’s eye into the subject and away from any background noise.

Fast Shutter Speed

The right shutter speed can be the difference between that crystal-clear shot that highlights every detail of your subject’s face, and a blurry mess. When choosing your shutter speed, you should use a minimum of around 1/100th of a second or faster.

Choosing ISO

Another decision you will need to make when shooting your photo in manual mode is what ISO you will be using. Remember, you are using a fast shutter speed, but you will want to choose the lowest possible ISO given your shutter speed.

banff winter photography

Having a touch screen that allows you to toggle between settings is a valuable feauture. It allows you to toggle between aperture values easily

The Right Lens

This is perhaps the most discussed part of shooting natural light photography—what lens do you use? If you happen to be shooting with a telephoto lens then you are all set when it comes to creating that sharp foreground and blurred background in your photo. You don’t even need a large aperture.

In general, when shooting photos like this, the longer the lens the better, especially when you are looking to soften the background and make your subject’s face more clear and crystalized.

Getting the Right Light

Now that your camera is all set and ready for a natural light photo, here comes the fun part, capturing that natural light in person. There are a few different options to consider, but they are all based on the moment and your setting—you can’t just manipulate the sun.

The natural light that you have will greatly influence the style and tone of your photo. With this in mind, here are a few tips on natural light and what you can expect them to do to your images.

white sands sunset photography

Photo From White Sands National Park Shortly after Sunset. Shot using a canon 5dmk4 at 100mm f14 at 2 seconds

Sunset photos are great if you want soft light. This is the best condition possible for a soft light photo and gives this ethereal glow that no other setting can really give off.

Overcast lighting is actually a very underutilized form of lighting. Just because there isn’t a bright sun in the sky, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get a truly stunning photo. Overcast lighting gives off a very large soft-box effect with soft lighting all around that can help dark colors pop and give a real feeling of emotion to a shot.

Window light photos are also a great option. If you are shooting indoors, it doesn’t mean that you can’t also capture the power of natural light photography by simply placing your subject near a window. Depending on the positioning, window light can give a nice, subtle glow to one side of your subject’s face and create dimension in your photo.

sagehen summit fall colors

This was shot as a panorama. I stitched 6 vertical shots together.

Bright harsh light actually isn’t a photo-killer. If you are planning on shooting in the middle of the day when the sun is out and bright you can use a light diffuser. This actually takes that bright sun and turns it into softer light and the effect can be really beautiful.

When it comes to shooting natural photography, the right lighting can make all of the difference in how your final product turns out. Stunning photos can be difficult to capture, but if you use the right settings, camera and understand what natural light can do for you, you may be surprised by what images you can capture.

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