The 4 Best Types of Natural Light for Your Photography

Free Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets by MCP™

The 4 Best Types of Natural Light for Your Photography

The 4 Best Types of Natural Light for Your Photography

I’m very particular about light. If my shooting conditions aren’t open shade, overcast, or back light,….I don’t shoot. However, as a photographer I’m always trying to learn new things and grow creatively as well as technically. It’s good to get out of your comfort zone at times and try shooting in all kinds of lighting conditions, like high noon, subject facing the sun, and mixed lighting. Playing with light is not always something you can afford to do when you have a paying client who is depending on your photos. I’ll save the light experiments for my own personal “fun” shoots! That way I can go out and discover and learn more about light and work in more complex lighting situations. As I get more comfortable, I can incorporate some of my new found knowledge into my shoots with clients.

Here are some of my favorite lighting conditions to shoot in.

OPEN SHADE: Shooting in open shade seems to be the safest lighting situation. I notice my exposures come out really spot on and the over all lighting is very even and nice. Sometimes we are stuck shooting at times of day when the lighting is strong and shooting conditions are not ideal (like at high noon). Your best chance for getting decent photos in this type of lighting is to find a nice piece of open shade. You will yield much better results then if you just take all of your photos out in the strong sun where you are more likely to get really harsh shadows and blow out the highlights. Try location scouting for various places that have nice open shade and make a list of them. That way depending on when your photo shoot takes place, you will always be able to have reliable locations with some nice open shade!

shooting in open shade

OVERCAST: What can I say, I delight in overcast days! It’s natures huge diffuser! Your entire environment becomes open shade and now you can dash out and shoot at any location, facing any direction. Many of the locations I love face west. Unfortunately it places the sun in my subjects face and therefore causes squinting and is not ideal. However, on an overcast day I can get out and shoot all of my favorite spots because open shade is everywhere. Also I find on an overcast day that my colors seem richer and deeper strait out of camera. Because overcast pictures tend to have a cooler tone to them, I will often warm up the photo in post processing.

shooting on an overcast day

BACK LIGHT: Shooting back light is so much fun, yet does not always produce desirable results. Shooting back lit subjects can often throw your cameras meter way off. It’s best to get close to your subject and meter off their face in the spot metering mode. Adjust your settings and then step back, focus, and take the shot. Sometimes it looks nice to have a little sun haze or lens flare on a photograph, but often when shooting back light it’s easy to get to much of a good thing. So you may have to reposition your subject or yourself just a bit so your photos don’t let too much haze into the photo. When done right, back lit pictures can be some of my favorites!

using backlight for your photography

AFTER SUNDOWN: Have I mentioned my new favorite time of day to shoot? Ya, it’s after the sun is completely down. The ambient light that is still around is unbelievable. Fist off you have complete open shade everywhere, the subject can face any direction now without the sun blaring in their face, and the exposures are to die for amazing! If you have a camera that let’s you boost your ISO settings up, and a fast lens that opens up, you can get away with shooting after then sun is totally down for 30 minutes or longer. Give it a try!

shooting photos after sundown

I always notice light. I love to just observe the way light touches everything, the way it falls all around us, and then look for those juicy pockets of light to work in! Watch light, pay attention to what it does through out the day and make plans for finding the best light for your photo shoots!

Andee Tate of Crave Photography is based out of Utah and specializes in Weddings, portrait work, and photoshop mentoring.

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  1. Coco
    June 25, 2012 at 7:48 am —


    I’m a beginner. Your articles helps me a lot.

    I would like to ask about the overcast
    should I boost my ISO and make my aperture smaller?

    Thank you very much 🙂
    God bless you!

    • June 25, 2012 at 8:39 am —

      Either increase your ISO, so if at ISO 100 – try 200 or even 400, etc – depending on how much light you have. Or open wider depending on your number of subjects and lens capabilities. You can also decrease your speed to let extra light in. So if you are at 1/1000, and using a 50mm lens, you can go to 1/50 or 1/100 or so, assuming your subject is not moving.

  2. February 22, 2012 at 2:17 pm —

    Sunset and off camera flash are my favorite combo. Otherwise, love open shade w/gold reflector! Thanks for the tips, beautiful photos!

  3. August 29, 2011 at 12:17 pm —

    Andee–You’re a rock star! Love you lots (and great tips, btw)!

  4. Fantastic suggestions–and truly beautiful images. Thanks for sharing!

  5. January 25, 2011 at 11:13 am —

    the sample photos are amazingly, amazingly gorgeous. really helpful to have examples for the 4 types of lighting conditions appropriate for getting great shots, too!

  6. January 21, 2011 at 6:47 pm —

    I’ve gotten an SLR in the last month and now I’m suddenly panicky when I see good light: WHERE’S MY CAMERA?? SOMEBODY POSE!!! We’ve got snow on the ground right now and it’s amazing how that big whiteboard outside reflects beautiful light into my usually dark house. Lovely.

  7. January 18, 2011 at 9:45 am —

    Fantastic article..Thanks so much for all of this
    awesome information!!

  8. January 17, 2011 at 2:29 pm —

    super great post!!!! Light is everything–and you made it so easy to understand how to capture it. Thanks so much!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Alan B
    January 17, 2011 at 2:20 pm —

    Very nice article with excellent examples to illustrate the various situations. Thanks!

  10. Heidi
    January 17, 2011 at 12:36 pm —

    Stuff I knew…but love reading up on more. Great article.

  11. January 17, 2011 at 12:35 pm —

    What a great article! I am always searching for light and trying to incorporate it, great tips to do that without always going for the flare! Love the idea of listing locations of open shade – never occurred to me to do that. 🙂

  12. January 17, 2011 at 12:09 pm —

    This is a great article and has so much important insights about lighting! As I continue to enhance my skills with photography, I realize how important lighting is. Thanks so much for this article!

  13. January 17, 2011 at 11:21 am —

    Love this! Great advice. I needed a refresher.

  14. January 17, 2011 at 11:06 am —

    Thankyou for this lighting post! Really love it!

    The metering off the face with backlit light!.. yay!! I am going to practice this today!

  15. January 17, 2011 at 10:15 am —

    Do you use any fill flash in any of these lighting situations?

  16. Carrie
    January 17, 2011 at 10:13 am —

    WOW!! This article is great. It’s information is very helpful and useful. I’m so glad I stumbled across it! Thank You for writing it and for adding those fantastic photo’s as examples.

  17. Ashley Gladwell
    January 17, 2011 at 10:09 am —

    Great article! Love the photo examples!

  18. jen
    January 17, 2011 at 10:00 am —

    Honestly, I don’t get it. Your whole website is called MCP “actions,” and you’re saying if you don’t have one of four types of light you don’t bother getting out your camera? What about those actions that are all over your website? You can shoot in any type light and apply actions and treatments later to do light fixes and amp up or down photos as needed.

    If you sit around waiting for one of these types of light, you’re really limiting yourself.

    • January 17, 2011 at 3:06 pm —

      Jen, I appreciate hearing all opinions. This article was written by Andee Tate who is sharing her opinions on the best types of lighting. We have also had articles here on shooting in full sun and other less than ideal conditions. We like to share multiple perspectives. Actions definitely can help your images. But learning to find good light and nail exposure is crutial for growing as a photographer.

  19. Julie
    January 17, 2011 at 9:36 am —

    Very informative article for newbies like me. The images are divine. Thanks for sharing!

  20. Libby McFalls
    January 17, 2011 at 9:17 am —

    Love this article!

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The 4 Best Types of Natural Light for Your Photography