Introduction to Natural Light Photography

The most fundamental aspect of photography is light. In fact, the word photography literally means ‘painting with light’. When you press the shutter button, light enters the camera, transferring the picture to film or turning it into electric impulses, which are subsequently converted into pixels in a digital snapshot. However, not all types of light produce good photos. Natural light, a type of light source may make your shot appear much more lively than using artificial lighting. In this article, we will look at natural light photography, its types, uses as well as some tips to click good pictures using natural light. 

What exactly is Natural Lighting?

Natural light refers to light emitted by the Sun or Moon, as opposed to a camera flash or other artificial light. However, as the Sun constantly moves across the sky, it causes natural light to fluctuate. Therefore, knowing where the Sun will rise and set on any particular day is useful when organising a shoot.

Characteristics of Natural Light

If you’re dealing with natural (or accessible) light, you should be familiar with its quality, direction, and colour temperature.


Direction of Light

The direction of light refers to the angle at which the light strikes the topic. Light can illuminate the subject from five directions. They are as follows:

  • Front light: Here, the subject is lit from the front, thus, resulting in lovely, even light on the subject’s face. It’s good for portraiture since it makes the subject’s features smaller and wrinkles less visible.
  • Backlighting: Backlight illuminates the subject from behind, resulting in a silhouette or a dramatically blown-out backdrop.
  • A sidelight: Here, the subject is lit from the left or right with side lighting, which helps to show its texture.
  • Top light: As the name suggests, the subject is illuminated from the top. Top light is often regarded as the least appealing light for portraits because it can cause “raccoon eyes,” or deep shadows in the eye sockets.
  • Under light: The subject is lit from below. As light sources are generally always above our heads, lighting your subject from below feels quite unnatural. This is an effect commonly associated with horror films.

Quality of Light

The quality of light refers to whether it is harsh or soft. Hard light is the appearance of light on a sunny day, with deep shadows as well as crisp and clear edges. Soft light, on the other hand, is the appearance of light on a foggy day when shadows are considerably softer at the border. Furthermore, when a light source is tiny in comparison to a subject, the quality gets harder. As the light spreads and gets larger, the quality softens.

To learn more about direction and quality, view the document below.

Colour Temperature

Colour Temperature of Light

In photography, colour temperature is the unit of measurement of the colour of the light. This characteristic is less obvious since our eyes and brains are quite excellent at adapting to whatever light colour we’re seeing. Colour or light temperature varies depending on the time of day. The light is warmer, or yellower, during sunrise, while it is significantly cooler, a blue-white, during midday. 

Colour temperature explained

An Interesting Fact! 

Because the light has a warm, golden tone, the 30 minutes or so before Sunsets are commonly referred to as the “golden hour”. “Blue hour“, also known as twilight, is half an hour after the Sun has set when there is still light in the sky. The sky seems quite blue in photographs clicked during this time.

Various Kinds of Natural Light

We can now distinguish between different forms of natural light based on the properties mentioned in the previous section. Here are a few that you could find handy in your photography:

Direct or Hard Light

On a clear day, the Sun may provide hard/direct light during midday or a few hours before Sunset. Its characteristics are: 

Colour: It is colder early in the day and warmer later in the afternoon. At midday, it is neutral white.

Quality: Has a strong contrast, resulting in extremely crisp, defined shadows and edges.

Direction: From top to bottom.

A photograph taken in Hard Light

Hard light provides a plethora of opportunities for dramatic photos. Photographing shadows that fall away from your subject, for example, might result in fascinating photographs. On the other hand, you may take pictures of the shadows that fall directly on your subject.

Soft or Diffused Light

Soft or diffused light, on the other hand, may come from the Sun on an overcast or cloudy day, as well as when the Sun begins to set. Snow, fog, air pollution, or a shadowed region can also be used to soften the light in a picture.

You may generate stunning images by photographing your subject in soft light, using the interplay of shadow and sunshine to delicately spotlight your subject. In addition, you may experiment with other perspectives, particularly with your subject facing the light. Alternatively, use colour contrasts or a tighter composition.

An example of how to use Soft Light

Characteristics of Soft Light:

Colour: Cool throughout the day, warm in the afternoon, and cool pastel during twilight.

Quality: Low contrast, and provides gentle shadows and smooth edges.

Direction: From below in a horizontal direction.

Light from the Window

If you want to film indoors, window light is a primary source of illumination. Its characteristics are as follows:

Colour: Determined by the time of day and the colours in the scene from which light may reflect.

Quality: Determined by the subject’s distance and angle from the source.

Direction: Varies on where the window is located, although it commonly creates side illumination.

Window Light Photography

Window light may be directly altered by tweaking the quantity of light that enters. For instance, you may place a transparent cloth across the window to act as a diffuser, which lessens the intensity of the light and helps to produce softer outlines. Additionally, you may use an opaque material to block off a piece of a darker area, giving a moodier impression.

Reflected Light

The reflected light is caused by a light source rebounding off an item, resulting in a softer colour cast or glow. Its characteristics are:

Colour: Inherits the surface’s colour

Quality: A low contrast with shadow filling.

Direction: The angle of reflected light is used to determine the direction.

Photograph using Reflected Light

It’s worth noting that the rougher your surface, the softer the reflected light. Eye for Ebony uses reflected light in the shot below, enabling the warmth of the brick wall background to cascade a faint colour over her figures.

Dappled Light

Dappled light is created when sunlight is filtered by tree leaves and reflected onto a nearby surface. It produces fascinating shadows on your subject and may improve the overall impact of your shot. Because this type of light tends to be a little dispersed, some photographers choose to avoid it or “correct” it. However, like with any other type of natural light, it may be used in a variety of inventive ways.

Take, for example, the picture below, where the photographer, Marco A. Gallico, uses shadows generated by the leaves to highlight his subject’s eye makeup while creating an image that is both enigmatic and otherworldly.

A photograph with Dappled Light by Marco A. Gallico

Characteristics of Dappled Light:

Colour: Changes at different times of the day.

Quality: Determined by the distance of the filter from the subject, which implies that the closer the filter, the greater the contrast.

Direction: Best shot in the morning and late afternoon.


Twilight is the transition between day and night and is always cool in hue, low in contrast, and soft/diffused. It is classified into three major sub-categories:

  • Civil twilight is closest to the horizon and occurs just before or after sunrise or sunset. It is the most intense and brightest kind of twilight. The colour temperature of the sky is colder at this hour, making it an excellent backdrop for your photographs.
  • Nautical twilight refers to the time when sailors utilised stars to navigate the waters. At his point, the sky has darkened dramatically and taken on a deep blue hue. Nautical Twilight is known as the best time to capture silhouettes of the moon.
  • During the astronomical twilight, the light below the horizon and the sky become much darker. 

Impact of the Time of the Day in Natural Light Photography

When shooting images, one of the most crucial factors to consider is the time of day. The location of the Sun in the sky makes a significant difference in the appearance of photographs, because the location of the Sun may affect the colour, composition, as well as depth. There isn’t always an optimum or worst time of day. It all depends on your theme and the look you want to achieve. 


A beautiful image with the Pastel Tones of the Sunrise

Sunrise is the best time of day to get a naturally breathtaking shot. The Sun lies low on the horizon line in the morning, resulting in a soft, diffuse light that is less directed and simpler to manage. Furthermore, the colours on the photo will appear as sparkling pastels. 

This is great for early risers because it is very hard to take a terrible shot, even a couple of hours after sunrise. When the sun is low in the sky, it casts fascinating shadows and makes interesting compositions.


A photograph taken with the midday Sun

The Sun is higher on the horizon during midday, making it more difficult to control. Because the Sun is overhead, the light is intense and coming in from all directions, but it is still possible to take great photographs. The presence of the bright Sun in the frame results in colourful visuals. A higher-intensity light provides a more colourful image in a landscape because the sunshine offers depth and makes the colours stand out. On the other hand, less powerful light results in a duller, moodier image. Strong light also generates more defined edges and shadows. 

However, when photographing during the day, the weather has an effect on how the image looks. On a cloudy day, the light will be flat and drab, while more colour and contrast are produced by brighter sunshine. The atmosphere of your shot is entirely up to you. 


Golden Hour Photography

As the Sun sets low on the horizon, it provides a wonderful subdued glow. The sunset, also known as the “golden hour“, generates lovely lighting, and the colours appear as deep, subdued tones. Dusk provides a soft image, and it is also an excellent time to play with grain and texture. This is a terrific time of day to obtain some visually appealing photographs, but because the light is fast fading, you need to keep an eye on your settings to avoid underexposed photos. 

How to take Golden Hour portraits

Seasonal variations

It’s also worth noting that depending on the season, the light produces a variable colour temperature. The light just seems different in the summer than it does in the winter due to the shifting daylight hours and temperature. Photographs shot in the winter will appear desaturated and chilly, while those taken in the summer have warmer tones.

Finding the Best Natural Light

Knowing where the Sun will rise and set on any given day is extremely useful when arranging a project that incorporates natural light. There are several applications, which are available for purchase, that can tell you the precise location of the Sun, and sometimes the Moon, on any day of the year.

Where is Natural Light used?


Natural light may be used to create a softer, radiant effect for photographs. When shooting inside, place your subject’s face near a natural light source, such as a window. Front light can smooth out any skin imperfections, while a sidelight can provide dimension to your subject. You should also use basic backdrops with low contrast since a cluttered or high-contrast background draws focus away from the subject of your image. Look for soft, even light. Furthermore, photograph your subject when the Sun rays hit your subject at an angle. Avoid photographing in the middle of the day, when unflattering top light casts harsh shadows on your subject’s face.


Windows are required for harnessing natural light in a studio. For the finest, most attractive impact, position your subject or item to the side of or facing the window. Backlighting should be avoided unless you’re aiming to create a silhouette.

Photographing products

Natural light is ideal for shooting things since artificial light can alter the colour of the object, while natural light helps to retain it. When shooting things indoors with natural light, use a window. In addition, because white equally reflects light, you should photograph on a simple white background. If the natural light is too strong, drape a thin white sheet across the window to soften it. When the sun is obscured by a cloud and the light dims, use a white foam board or screen to bounce and increase the light.

Wedding photography

Natural light is preferred by many wedding photographers because it creates softer, more romantic photographs than artificial lighting and flash. Shooting with natural light also necessitates less equipment, which is beneficial when the photographer has to move around to click pictures.

Advantages of using Natural Light for Photography

Natural light photography has the following advantages for both professional and amateur photographers:

  • There is no need to invest in costly artificial lighting.
  • Natural light images differ depending on the time of day they are taken. A photo during the golden hour will seem considerably different from one taken in the midst of a sunny day or after twilight.
  • Natural lighting is often associated with bucolic landscape photography, but it is also employed in portrait photography. 
  • Natural light enters houses via windows and doors and may be used for photography. Window photography, for example, blends natural illumination from the sun with interior design. Because window light comes from a set direction, this type of ambient lighting may be simpler to work with than direct sunshine.
  • A natural light photographer may make outdoor photographs as captivating as those photographed in an interior studio by adjusting and experimenting with different exposures and camera settings.

Expert Tips on Natural Light Photography 

Many professional photographers prefer natural light photography. Some tips from these photographers are mentioned below. 

  • Consider the various types of natural light to be tools in a toolbox. None of the ‘tools’ is good or bad, they are just appropriate or inappropriate for the message you are attempting to convey.
  • A typical error made by beginning photographers is to believe that they cannot go out shooting if it is raining or cloudy for fear of taking lousy images. However, this is not the case. Overcast lighting is considerably easier to deal with and may yield equally fascinating results.
  • There are no certainties in natural light photography. It’s all about learning to work with what you have. The best you can do is to grasp how light appears at various exposures and use that to achieve your goal.
  • On certain days, natural light can be warm and golden, while on others, it can be blue. This is where the use of white balance comes in. You may utilise the settings to adapt to the surroundings and create the desired light tone.
  • Quite often street images taken in overcast conditions lack drama and punch. If you shoot colour street photography, you should employ colour temperature to its full capacity to help add drama to your images.

Final Thoughts

Natural light photography produces beautiful and varied images and is great if you want to showcase different moods through your photos. Furthermore, natural light casts interesting shadows on your subject, thus, making your image more compelling. This article provides all the necessary information to understand the characteristics, types and uses of natural light. We hope that it encourages you to choose natural light photography more often. 

To learn more about photography and its various types, visit Podium School.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do you take shadow pictures with natural light?

Shadows aren’t necessarily a terrible thing. In fact, they may be used in a variety of ways to produce distinctive visuals. Here are a few examples:

  • Create a gloomy ambience with shadows: The presence of shadows typically creates a dark mood. Thus, it can be utilised to emphasise a character’s ‘hardness’ or to create mystery. In architecture or landscape photography, it can be used to give character to the location you’re photographing.
  • Use it to provide depth and dimension to your photographs: Shadows and lighting offer additional 3D effects to a picture, so experiment with it to add depth and dimension to your images. 
  • Use shadows to highlight surfaces and capture unique patterns: Be creative and use shadows to create remarkable visuals, whether it’s dappled light through the foliage on a model or odd geometric patterns produced by the shadows of a skyscraper.

What is the difference between Artificial light and Natural light photography?

The most significant contrast between natural and artificial light photography is the source of light, that is the Sun vs electrical lighting. Mentioned below are the differences between the two types of lighting:

Natural lightArtificial light
Lighting conditions change with weather and time of day and location (indoors or outdoors).There will be a source of light in an artificially lit studio that is constant at all hours of the day
Natural lighting, on the other hand, illuminates entire landscapes and is employed in many genres, such as street photography, that is severely constrained when only artificial lights are available.Various options are available. In the context of portraiture, green screen photography, nighttime photography outside as well as artificial lighting may provide excellent results.
Natural light can be difficult to regulate in some situations. An overcast day might ruin your intentions for a big panorama photo. On a sunny day, too much light may result in an unfavourable colour temperature.Controlling the illumination source is possible. Thus, it is preferred by photographers who cannot afford to re-shoot.

 What type of lighting is most similar to natural light?

Halogen bulbs are a form of incandescent bulbs that produce “white light”, which is quite close to natural light in terms of colour temperature and quality. Under halogen lighting, colours look more vivid. Furthermore, lamps may be muted if required.

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