The 4 Best Types of Natural Light for Your Photography

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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. October 21, 2013 at 1:18 pm —

    I’m just wondering if any strobes were used in these shoots or how much post production went into them. I’m trying to get the same effect but the lighting doesn’t seem quite right.

  2. June 29, 2013 at 6:00 am —

    hello frnds!!! nice article ..i like this post. Photography’s most basic lighting option, the sun, is also one of the most versatile. It can be bright and hard or dim and soft. It can be warm and highly directional, casting long shadows. Or, behind clouds, its light can be blue, diffuse, and shadow-free. As it crosses the sky, the sun serves as a front-, side-, back-, and/or hair-light.

  3. December 30, 2012 at 12:09 pm —

    Now to decide on my favorite light? Backlight might have it… Great article!

  4. Tabatha Hawks
    October 24, 2012 at 8:28 am —

    I am a beginner photographer and am delighted to get all the advice i need to be successful at it. Photography has become a passion for many years, but just haven’t spent the $$ on that just right camera for me. I want to be able to capture great shots and I’m learning everyday how, but still not sure what camera to buy. I am ready to invest.
    In addition, with the photo’s that you showed as examples above, could you tell us what settings you used and what equipment? Much appreciated.

    Tabatha H.

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The 4 Best Types of Natural Light for Your Photography