Natural light is a powerful element for any photographer to click portraits. Natural light can impact the tones, style, and the overall look and feel of the portrait you shoot.
Shooting dynamic portraits with natural light can make a photograph look authentic. Harsh daylight can give you bright portraits, and soft daylight can give you eye-catchy photos. However, capturing in soft natural light is not easy.
Sunrise and sunset is the perfect time to shoot if you want natural light to be the highlight of your shoot. This timing is known as the golden hour. However, if you find yourself outside of these hours you can use reflectors or lighting to fill in any harsh shadows. This will help create a soft light on your subject, making the model’s face glow, which enhances their makeup and uplifts their facial features.
Three Different Types of Natural Light Photos
How To Use Natural Light to Balance A Portrait Shoot
Sometimes on cloudy days, the portrait result can look flat. A silver reflector helps in catching more light but keep in mind that it’s not too intense. Add a large reflector as it helps in the evening up the image and gives a more natural look.
How to Increase Depth to a Portrait Image by Adding Colour
Some portraits demand depth analysis before being shot due to their surrounding environment. You can increase the depth to a portrait image by adding colour, such as a gold reflector.
How to Combat Harsh Backlight By Using Simple Lighting Tool
Taking portrait shots by the windows can highlight harsh backlight. To avoid this, use a gold and silver reflector to bounce the available light on to the models face.
The Equipment You Will Need For Natural Light Portraits
You don’t have to invest thousands of dollars to get professional studio lighting. Few essential tools will help you to shoot perfect dynamic portraits with natural light.
An Excellent Tripod
A tripod is used to mount the camera onto it so that it stands still throughout the shoot. This ensures that the framing for each model or product stays identical and avoids capturing blurry photos.
A Portrait Lens is Essential for Natural Light Portraits
Natural light gives you a lot of scope to capture portraits using different lights. Using different lenses for such shoots gives you different types of portraits, especially focal length lenses, which are ideal for portraits. Here are three focal length lenses which we recommend.
24-70mm F2.8 Lens
A 24-70mm lens is a versatile focal length for shooting portraits with natural light. Especially if you have a fixed aperture of F2.8. Regardless of the brand this type of lens is robust and can be used in low light situations. The 24mm aspect offers a wide capture, whereas the 70mm allows you to zoom in to achieve a detailed close-up.
70-200mm F2.8 Lens
A 70-200mm F2.8 lens is a focal length offering a wide aperture. This lens lets in more light, which helps you capture sharp shots even in fading light. This a telephoto length of 200mm you can stand back from the model, zoom in and get some beautiful out of focus areas in the background. By using this technique you can really make someone stand out from a distracting background.
50mm F1.4 Lens
A 50mm F1.4 lens is one of the most lightweight and convenient lenses for natural light portraiture. As it is lightweight, you don’t necessarily need a tripod when photographing. A 50mm lens is great at highlighting minute details, and also offers amazing depth-of-field options.
Create a Natural Light Looks Using a Reflector To Bounce The Light
A reflector helps you to reflect light in a specific direction. There are different types of reflectors to choose from, including small or large collapsible reflectors and rigid reflectors.
Small collapsible reflectors
Small reflectors are used to create hard light, which creates more noticeable shadows. This ensures less transition between the dark and light areas of the portrait.
Phottix 5-in-1 80cm Reflector
The Phottix 5-in-1 80cm Reflector comes with five colour reflective finishes; Silver, Golden, Black, White, Translucent. This nifty tool is portable and can be easily carried. Each of the different colours can be used for several different purposes, such as:
- Silver Side – Use silver for creating high contrast reflective bounce.
- Gold Side – Gold can be used for creating a sunny warm glow.
- Black Side – Black is best for absorbing light and removes reflection.
- White Side – Use White for creating highlights and adding more brightness.
- Translucent – Translucent is best used for reducing shadows and creating softer outputs.
Lastolite Halo Compact Reflector (Silver/White, 32 inches)
Lastolite Halo Compact Reflector (Silver/White, 32 inches) is an ideal minimal lighting tool to create amazing portraits. It has reversible silver and white sides that can be attached to a rigid metal frame, which comes along with the reflector. The reflector is portable and easy to carry.
Large collapsible reflectors
Large collapsible reflectors are common as they solve the purpose of creating soft light, which is quite important when doing a portrait shoot with natural light. An ideal size is 40-45 inch. Anything more than 50 inches can be difficult to manage as you’ll need extra hands to hold it.
Lastolite Collapsible Panelite 6×4′ Reflector, Sunlite/Soft Silver
The Lastolite Collapsible Panelite 6×4′ Reflector is quite suitable for improving lighting in the environment. Sunlite colour is a subtle blend of gold and silver to give a softer output. When picking up the product you will notice the reflective surfaces are double-coated, which ensures it won’t split or crack.
Lastolite Collapsible Panelite 6×4′ Reflector, Silver/White
This portable solution works well for wedding and fashion photography. You will find when the reflector collapses it’s easy to work with due to it’s small size and footprint. This makes it ideal for travelling from one location to another.
Lastolite Collapsible Panelite 6×4′ Diffuser, 2 Stops
A diffuser softens the harsh light when it’s made to pass through it. Lastolite Collapsible Panelite 6×4′ Diffuser creates beautiful diffused light portraits. It is lightweight and works well for full-length portraits.
Assembling and setting up the stand is fast and easy. Its unique leg design allows you to shoot comfortably even in unconventional places such as terrain. The grip arm is perfect for small reflectors.
Lastolite Skylite Rapid 2×2 Kit
This Lastolite Skylite Rapid 2×2 Kit comprises a white/silver square reflector, a diffuser with -1.25f, a stable and lightweight aluminium frame and a bag. An elastic cord runs through the aluminium rods. This ensures all frame parts are firmly connected.
Lastolite Skylite Rapid 2×2 0.75
It is a very simple and easy tool that helps in softening light when shooting dynamic portraits with natural lights. Skylite frames fabrics’ are separately available, which allows you to mix and match. The Lastolite Skylite Rapid 2×2 0.75 has a clip-style connection for easy attachment and detachment.
Lastolite Skylite Rapid 1.1×2 Sunsilver
This medium standard kit includes collapsible, weather-resistant frame, sunsilver reflector, 1.45 stops diffuser and a case. This is ideal for most natural light-demanding situations.
Lastolite Skylite Crossbar
Lastolite Skylite Crossbar ensures a sturdier grip to hold Skylite Frame and panel during the shoot. It is robust and lightweight.
Lastolite Skylite Griphead
The Lastolite Skylite Griphead fixes Skylite rapid to any standard light stand. This clamp-like tool offers a feature that lets you tilt Skylite, and is durable and hard-wearing.
Control Natural Light Portraits Using Filters For Your Lenses
A filter is a tool that reduces the amount of light coming into the lens, reflections, glare, and enhances colours. Different lenses serve different purposes. For portraiture, we would recommend either a UV or ND filter.
A UV filter is made of glass that is attached to the front of the lens, which blocks ultraviolet rays. It is mainly used to protect lenses from ultraviolet rays. It is a must for shooting with natural light, as a sunny day harbours a lot of UV light can harm your lenses.
Neutral Density 2-Stop Filter
A Neutral Density filter reduces light coming through the lens without affecting the colour. This reduction of light certainly helps in shooting with a wide aperture. Exposure in photography is measured in terms of stops. A neutral density 2-stop filter will stop twice the amount of light of a 1-stop filter.
Other Equipment You May Need
The Spring Clamp is important to clip reflectors to stands. Tether Tools 2-inch spring clamp is a multipurpose spring clamp that can secure a backdrop, bounce card, shot lists, and scripts; acting as an extra set of hands.
Some stands are not sturdy enough to maintain balance on uneven areas. However, using sandbags can secure any stands and prevent them from falling.
Now that we know what gear you need, here are ten tips to keep in mind when shooting natural light portraits.
Top 10 Natural Light Portrait Tips To Keep In Mind
Use The Right Camera
Choosing the right camera as per your needs is very important. Ideally the best camera depends upon what kind of project you’re working on. Consider the range of lenses and lighting accessories available for each brand. Some of the more popular brands include Canon, Nikon and Sony.
Shoot At The Right Time: Golden Hour
Golden hour is the perfect time to shoot portraits with natural lights. During these times the light is the best so you can experiment with compositions, panoramas, expressions, poses etc.
Always Carry a Reflector
Reflectors help you in controlling the intensity of light. They are crucial piece of equipment for every photographer. For instance, if it’s cloudy, you can bounce light to light up a models face. The gold side of the reflector can add warmth to the image. Choose a suitable one depending on the location, your style, weather condition etc.
Make Sunlight your Backlight
Make sure to position your model in such a way that the sun is behind them. This protects the face from harsh sunlight, which otherwise creates a blinding effect. As the sun is behind the model, a backlight is naturally created, which creates a soft silhouette making it a perfect shot.
Keep ISO Low
Lower the ISO, to reduce the noise in the image. Once you do this you can adjust the shutter speed to compensate for changing lighting conditions.
Choose Right Location for Natural Light Portraits
A right location should ensure proper availability of natural light. Spend a good amount of time in choosing the right location as per the project scope. Once you are at the location find the best light and then take a few test shots to get an idea of what the final image will look like.
Wherever you are shooting, you should go there beforehand, do a site inspection and check how the light is every hour. On the shoot day, you won’t have time to think of ideas to introduce something new.
Experiment with Shadows
If your project demands harsh daylight, try experimenting with shadows. While reflectors can bounce light to fill in shadow areas, they aren’t always required. Shadows can create interesting shapes within portraits which can make the portraits look more natural and authentic. This is an especially useful technique when photographing in black and white.
Use The Right Lenses
Choosing the right lenses is as crucial as the right camera. An ideal lens kit for shooting should contain a wide aperture to allow as much light through the lens as possible. The lenses we listed at the beginning of the article are ideal.
Shoot in RAW
Shooting in RAW settings gives you creative flexibility. By doing so, you can work on the details in an image in post-production. RAW file shooting gets the best image quality from your camera.
With natural light, you don’t have a lot of time to take a perfect shot as the light source is constantly moving around. Therefore, your model should be prepared beforehand with poses, script, dialogues etc. It is essential you use every available minute of light to get the shot.
In summary, shooting portraits with natural light is not an easy job. A lot of things need to be considered. What tools and equipment you carry are very important – from lenses to tripods to reflectors.
We encourage you to try one of these natural light portrait techniques in your own home. By doing so, you will take your portraits to the next level. For more information on any of the pieces of equipment mentioned in this article or shown in the video, drop by our store or give us a call. We would be happy to assist you!