One of the things I set out to accomplish in my early days of learning photography was to understand more about light. Learning more about the technical aspects of light has really helped me consciously make an effort to improve my portrait photos and be more intentional with them over the years. I am sharing some of those nuggets of wisdom today on different ways to use natural light, a.k.a. sunlight, for portrait photography.
Direct sunlight runs from about mid-morning to mid-afternoon. This is when the sun is high in the sky and provides a direct light source with harsher shadows. This is typically not the most flattering light for portrait photography, but can create a dramatic effect.
Sunset light is still direct sunlight but is very diffused and warm as the sun gets closer to the horizon. This create very beautiful, soft lighting for portraits.
Diffused sunlight occurs when there a barrier between the sunlight and the subject, like a window. The window allows the light to spread out, creating a more even consistency of light on the subject. In this photo, there were two windows directly behind me that led to a covered patio. I put my son on the bed, facing toward the windows at about three feet of distance from them. The closer to the source (the window), the more concentrated the light.
Indirect sunlight can occur in outdoor settings where there is shade. Usually under a covering like a patio or a tree. Lighting tends to be more evenly distributed but also cooler (bluer) as compared to the warmer (orange) tones created by sunlight. This photo was taken mid-morning within the shadow of our house.
In any of the above lighting situations, the use of reflected light can be helpful to fill in shadows or under lit spaces. A common (and cheap) reflector is white foam core board. You can place it in front of the subject or underneath them in order to get some reflected light back to fill in shadows. In this photo, the sun was to the left, but by putting a reflector to the right, it helped bounce some of that sunlight back to fill in the shadows on his face.
So what about you? Once you have a chance to read the article I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic.
What are your favorite ways to use natural light in your portraits?