6 Tips For Working With Natural Light

Improve your photography and make natural light your best friend!

Natural light is a very powerful and free tool for every photographer. I think it’s very important to know how to work with this light source because this can improve your photography without spending too much money. In this blog post I’ve outlined 6 tips that I use a lot when I work on location.

1. OBSERVE THE LIGHT

First of all, make sure to observe the light every day to see what it does on faces, landscapes, buildings etc. At what time of the day do you like the light best, and what happens with the sunlight if there are a lot of clouds? When you will think about this, you can learn what kind of light you need for your concept, and if you want to make pictures when the sun is very harsh or you prefer the golden hour. The golden hour is the first hour of light after sunrise and also the last hour of light before sunset. Of course the exact duration varies between seasons. During these times the sun is low in the sky, so it’s producing a soft and diffused light which is more flattering and magical than the harsh sun.

Before you go shooting, be sure to know what light fits your concept. If you want to use diffused light, try to find a cloudy day to organise your shoot or avoid the midday sun in the summer. But the harsh sunlight can be great when you like high contrasts and want to play with shadows. More about this later in this post.

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A soft and warm sunlight at the end of a sunny day in Oktober in Milan. There are some shadows on her face and body.

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Soft light on a cloudy day. No disturbing shadows in her face.natural light tips

2. USE A COLLAPSIBLE REFLECTOR

The collapsible reflector is my favorite tool when working with daylight. For some years I used a 5-in-1 reflector,  and I found out that silver, white and diffuse where my favorites. That made me decide to buy the Sunbounce Micro-Mini Silver-White and I love the high quality of this reflector! I’ll explain what a reflector can do with the light.

White: When you would like to lift up the shadows caused by strong light, you hold a white reflector at an equal angle between the sun and your model. In the midday sun, you can position the reflector at chest height to remove the ugly shadows under the eyes. The white reflector gives a more natural effect than the silver reflector.

Silver: Silver is great to use as a light source to add an attractive sparkle in the eyes of your model. Her eyes will pop out of the pictures. But, be aware that it’s hard for the model to open her eyes for a long time because the silver reflector can be very harsh when it reflects directly in her eyes, especially when working in strong sunlight. The silver side will add contrast to your picture and make your model stand out of the background. Also great for fashion editorials, because you can highlight the details of the clothes and jewelry!

Gold: The gold side of the reflector can be used to add an attractive warm glow to your model. I only use this side when it will fit the concept, because it can turn the natural skin tones very orange, and that’s not always beautiful..

Diffuse: A diffuser can be used to soften the light and reduce shadows created by the sun. It works similar to a softbox. Position the diffuser between the sun and your model to soften the effect of the light. Perfect for the days when you need to work on very sunny days.

Black: The black reflector can be used as a flag to stop the light. This will prevent the unwanted flare on your lens or your subject.

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The silver reflector will give more contrast light up the shadows when using on cloudy days.

natural light photography tips
A gold reflector to enhance the golden details and it gives a beautiful golden touch to her face.

 3. USE THE SUN AS A BACKLIGHT

Try to use the sun as a backlight sometimes. This will give a more soft and different result than you are probably used to. When you do this if the sun is low, you can produce dreamy pictures with a nice flare. In the picture below it was a kind of misty and the sun wasn’t low, but it turned out very soft and it separated the model from the background. To prevent her face to become all black I used a silver reflector to avoid this.

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I used the sun as a backlight on a misty day.

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The sun is behind the model, but because she is standing in between bamboo, the results are different.

4. LIGHT & DARK

Experiment with light and darkness can make your pictures more exciting to look at. For example; the clair-obscure technique was already used by famous old painters. With this technique the light-dark contrasts are often stronger portrayed than they actually are. Perfect to tell a story with your pictures. Keep your eyes open to find some good places to work with this contrast!

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I saw this amazing light and it was only there for just a few minutes. We quickly placed the model on the right spot.

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The model is standing in a dark gate of an old ruin.

5. PLAY WITH SHADOWS

The sunny days are great to experiment with shadows on your model. I like to work with shadows because most of the time you will make the pictures that you didn’t expected to make. (Because you can’t influence the sunlight and the shadows at the start of your photo shoot). It will give an extra touch to your picture.

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The shadows of the leaves are looking beautiful on her face and dress.

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The shadows in the daylight studio were perfect for the concept we where working with.

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The shadows of her dress and stairs make a nice composition in this picture.

6. USING NATURAL LIGHT INDOOR / IN THE STUDIO

For working with natural light, you will probably think that you will need to go outdoor. But that’s not true. Quite often I also use natural light when I work indoor or in a daylight studio. It’s important that there is enough light inside, so be sure to stay close to a window for example. Also white walls are great, because they will reflect the light that comes in.


This picture is made next to a window (at the right). She is turning her face into the light for the best results.


The light is this picture was quite high, because there was a window above her. It gives her hair a nice highlight.

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The walls and the floor where white and there were a lot of windows, there are no shadows in her face.

photography & text: Liselotte Fleur