Photography in Natural Light


Lighting is a crucial aspect of a photograph. It is equally as important as exposure, composition, white balance, and the story being told within the frame. Photography is about capturing light and recording it, whether on paper, or more frequently now, in a digital format. As a photographer, you control the amount, intensity and duration of light required to create the picture. Great light, whether natural or artificial, is always available but knowing how to work with that light and to use it to your advantage is key.

Light is different throughout the day. At midday, sunlight falls almost vertically and the diffusing effect of the atmosphere is minimal. This results in sharply-lit high-contrast photos that don’t look so pleasing to the eye. In the morning and at the end of the day, however, the sun is closer to the horizon and it takes longer for the light to enter through the atmosphere. That’s why photos taken at sunset have softer shadows and highlights. When the sun is low it’s also easier to frame the object in such a way that it faces the light. Or to shoot against the light, if that’s what you want. In short, there are more opportunities of using the light and the results are better.

Photographers use the term Magic Hours to define two times of the day when sunlight is especially favorable. They are called the Golden Hour and the Blue Hour. The Golden Hour starts 30-60 minutes before sunset and ends a bit after the sun sinks below the horizon. The light is soft and diffused and has a characteristic golden glow. The Blue Hour occurs just after sunset and lasts for maximum 60 minutes. The sun isn’t in the sky anymore so nothing casts a shadow. The resulting photographs are soft and characterized by cool, blue tones. It takes more than just making use of the Magic Hours to take a well-exposed and eye-pleasing photograph. But they’re a good place to start.

Photographing is inseparable from light, and light is in shadow. Photography is the use of light to paint. How to use light and shadow to form images and tone is a key to photography. The natural light in real life comes from the only sunlight. For the light projected on the subject, not only the position and area of the shadow will change with the direction and angle, but also the impression, feeling, including the shadow of the subject. Blended tones also show distinctly different visual effects. Therefore, choosing the right light, including proper light direction and angle, is the first step in photographic creation.

Understanding light is a constant exploration and there are multiple avenues you can take to either begin or continue your knowledge. Having fellow photography friends around to bounce ideas and thoughts off of are truly invaluable but there are additional resources such as photography blogs, forums, workshops, and books. If you want to learn photography under a professional, check out our courses at Le Mark School of Art. We provide both online as well as campus courses where you are guided by professionals who have years of experience in this industry.

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