Golden hour. Magic hour. Natural light photography. When I was a new photographer I shook my head at all these terms and usually photographed right around noon when the light was at its worst. It was more important I got my late morning beauty sleep than fully understanding what a camera was for.
All artists use tools and a camera is just a tool. When you’re a photographer it’s all about light, always, all the time, and above all else. That’s why you start hearing about things like photographing only during golden hour and natural light photography.
Here’s a few tips for those natural light photographers!
1. Shoot during golden hour. This is that last hour before sunset (or during) where the light is low in the sky, very golden, and as such creates less shadows and more even lighting across your subject. It’s also great for sun flares if that’s the kind of thing that floats your boat.
2. If you have to shoot during the mid-day sun use shade to your advantage. Shooting in open shade can help you create even light and even skin tones with no harsh shadows.
3. Watch for shadows on the face. Shadows under the eyes (raccoon eyes), under the nose or off to the side of the nose are not flattering in photographs. I use whatever tools I can to avoid these shadows in any photograph. If you’re a natural light photographer that probably means you don’t want to use fill flash to help with these shadows, but you can use a reflector or turn and move your client according to the available light to get the best shot.
4. Spend time observing light. Photography is all about capturing light and the best way to learn how to use natural light is learning to recognize it. Go out at different times of day and look at the light and the way it affects objects and people at those times. One of the best ways I would learn is watching films. If you watch a movie and you try to figure out where the light source is you’ll get better and better at guessing what type of light they are using and how they use it to light their subjects.
5. Get catchlights! Catchlights in your clients eyes can completely change a photo. Catchlights are those little flecks of light that are captured reflected in someone’s eye. When you have those lights in their eyes it just adds that extra oomph to a photo. Without good light in your subjects eyes you can get what I like to call ‘shark eyes’ where the entire eye looks black through the pupil and iris. If you can’t get great catchlights you at least want to ensure that the eye doesn’t look completely black.
6. Be flexible with your posing. Using natural light means that the perfect pose might not always be perfect due to the light and it means you’ll have to be flexible and prepared to move and change your clients according to the light.
7. Don’t reschedule on cloudy days. Clouds create natural diffused light and almost act as natural soft boxes so this can enable you to work easily without having to avoid certain situations.
8. Be aware of natural reflectors. A big white building in a photo can act as a reflector and will reflect white light onto its surroundings. This also means that other buildings and objects can act as reflectors and give you color casts in your photos. It’s good to be aware of these things so you don’t pull your photos up later in camera and find you have the best shot ever, but that red British phone booth you posed your couple next to gave them both red looking faces. Look for those color casts when you’re posing and setting up your photos so you can avoid them. Sometimes you can also use them to your benefit as well!
9. Focus on the face first and foremost. (I like the letter ‘f’). The first thing I check before pressing that shutter button is my subject’s face. You’ll be able to best gage the lighting situation from there. If you see harsh shadows, squinting, color cast or other oddities then you know you need to change something. I make it a habit to check the face and then work outward and see where there might be things I want to change or avoid.
10. There is no ‘correct’ exposure. Photography is about style. It’s okay to experiment with different exposures instead of trying to get that perfectly exposed one. Sometimes those really moody images can be the best if something is a bit under exposed and then changed into black and white you’ll get gorgeous highlights and a very emotional image.
If you are wanting to learn more about natural light and catchlights specifically sign up for the FREE class on catchlights later in July! I’m also hosting an online class about photographing in Manual Mode that will be a great opportunity to learn about natural light and your camera settings. All of the classes are $15 and you can even watch them later if you won’t be available for the live viewing. Register for Online Classes!