Everything you need to know about natural lighting.
Panorama Photography Nature Photography People Photography
January 25, 2019

The word Photography literally means the study of light. There can be no photography if there is no light at all. Photography requires the skills of using light to your advantage to make images artistically. There can be two types of lighting in any condition, artificial light, and natural light. Natural light refers to the light sources present in nature. Natural light is not under our control. It may differ from place to place and from time to time. Artificial light sources can vary in size, intensity etc. as per our needs. They can be manipulated all the time and hence are very convenient to use. However, natural light can still not be replaced as it lends a completely different feel to the images. Let us take a look at the different types of natural lighting, the challenges while using each of them and how to make the best use of them…



Image courtesy pinterest

Front lighting: This is probably the most common type of natural lighting. This is when the light source is actually behind the photographer while illuminating the subjects in front. Front lighting is the easiest to shoot in. The major challenge in front lighting conditions, however, is that the light is often spread equally all over the subject and hence can appear very flat. Since the contrast in lighting is missing, you need to compensate for that by selecting subjects with stark contrasts. If there are quite a few colorful objects in front, front lighting can do wonders. Try to choose a scene which involves a lot of contrast in shades and colors. Splashing waves, a collection of colorful objects can all be shot nicely using front lighting.


Backlighting: Backlighting is that form of lighting in which the light source is actually placed behind the subject. This means that the photographer is actually shooting into the light source. The major challenge in backlighting is that the subject comes out quite dark since the camera exposes for the highlights behind. This is a reason why your family members looked dark in all the images of that beach vacation you undertook! There are some ways around this though. The best way to solve this is by using a reflector or a flash to fill the shadows on the face of the subject. In case you are firing the flash directly at the subject, use a diffuser to evenly diffuse out the light. A reflector can also come in handy. It reflects the light back on to the face of the subject in an evenly distributed form. The lighting is soft and quite attractive. However, to use a reflector, you will require extra helping hands. You can also use metering mode to expose for the highlights and later recover the shadows in post-processing. Always shoot in raw when using backlighting. Another way to overcome this backlighting problem is by getting creative and making silhouettes. The immensely bright background will render the subjects entirely black thereby just showing the black structures of your subjects. Use the exposure compensation option in your camera to underexpose a little in case you want to make silhouettes.


Headlighting: This is the lighting condition in which the light source is placed perpendicularly above your subjects. This can lead to very harsh shadows in the case of portraits and can even wash out your images in case of landscapes or architecture. This is possibly the most challenging lighting condition to shoot in. It is better to avoid shooting in this condition but if the shooting schedule is tight, you need to find a solution. The harsh shadows can be quite irritating, but can you use that to your advantage? Get your creative juices flowing and find silhouettes of various objects. Try to get the game of light and shadow going as well. Reflections of architectural buildings etc. can also be captured if the lighting condition is proper.


Diffused or soft lighting: This is the best lighting condition to shoot in. We often talk about the harsh lighting conditions and how they introduce strong shadows in our images. Diffused lighting conditions can be seen mostly on cloudy days. Clouds act as the natural diffusers of light. The light falling on the subject is very soft and hence looks quite natural. You don’t require any other lighting gear too. Since the exposure doesn’t change too much in this condition, shooting with a particular set of exposure triangle parameters can be possible. Sometimes the light can be of very less intensity and the image may look a bit flat. In such a case you can shoot long exposure shots to capture all the drama and movement in the sky. You can also shoot in black and white to increase the overall contrast in your image.


Side lighting: Welcome to the world of drama! This is a photographer’s favorite. Side lighting happens when the light source is placed on a particular side of the subject throwing the opposite half of the subject into shadows. The game of light and shadow is on! This lighting condition is mostly used to portray drama. However side lighting can lead to very long shadows too. Take note of the long shadows and how best you can use them in your images. You can try to shoot multiple sides lit images from the top to actually depict the subjects by their long shadows, formed by the side lighting.


Image courtesy democraciaejustica.org


Natural lighting conditions can never be replaced. Photographers still prefer the natural light. The reason is quite simple. It’s natural! Artificial lights need a lot of tweaking and adjustments in order to look natural. If you are a photographer, you need to make the sun your best friend. Now that we have discussed each of the lighting conditions in detail, you are ready to shoot at any point of time during the day. You should no longer wait only for the golden hour to set in.


Panorama Photography Nature Photography People Photography
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