All the Light We Can See- 7 Ways Photographers on a Budget, Capitalize on Natural Light

If there’s one thing to remember about photography, it’s that it’s a balancing act. Hundreds of variables go into the art of photography. Adjustments to your shooting method will inevitably affect post-production, and adjustments in post-production will inevitably affect the final image, whether it’s digital or print. That’s why it’s called an art, and not a science.

One of the major hurdles to honing your art is learning how these hundreds of variables interact. Practicing with a variety of camera tools, in different shooting conditions and with different post-production software can be time consuming and expensive. Luckily, millions of professional photographers have gone before you and have tested and culled unique tricks for capturing the best image within given parameters. In this blog we’ll explore time-tested tactics for utilizing and manipulating natural light while on a budget.

1. Alter the Mood of Your Image, Simply by Changing the Time of Your Shoot-

In our last blog post, we hinted at the idea that some hours in the day are more ideal for shooting than others. Golden hour, for example, is the best time for capturing warm, romantic images. But depending on the mood you’re trying to capture, you may want to consider a different time of day for your shoot. In L.A., for example, it is possible to capture harsh, midday light in order to evoke a more strenuous, difficult setting.

Consider this image, for example, where the photographer uses the harsh, midday light to suggest a difficult work environment. Had the photographer chosen a softer, more romantic light, the image would have significantly lost its intended effect.

2. Consider Fill Light for Product Photography-

Fill light is reflected light that helps to light a product more evenly by filling in the shadows. To fill in the shadows of your subject positioned near a window, all you need to do is reflect light towards the subject. While you can purchase an array of reflectors, you will be surprised at how effective any white object will be. White sheets, white paper, white cork board, even a white pillow if positioned close enough, will help to fill in the shadow side of a subject positioned next to a window.

PHOTO:  Jesse Orrico

3. Use Windows in Your Space to Your Advantage-

Continuing with the concept of fill light, this diagram using natural window light shows how to position your subject and reflector in comparison to your window. For best results, set your camera up so that you are shooting perpendicular to your window or other light source.

4. DIY Your Own Lightbox-

A lightbox is one of the simplest tools that can create a drastic difference in a product shoot. You absolutely do not have to be a professional crafter to create your own lightbox. This step-by- step lightbox guide will show you how to create your own lightbox using a recycled cardboard box, masking tape and a box cutter.

5. DIY Your Own Beauty Dish-

A beauty dish gives your subject focused light without a hot spot in the middle. The light is more focused and harder than a lightbox, but softer than a flash. A beauty dish reflects light, effectively illuminating a subject from all angles. Beauty dishes can cost upwards of $200. But this photographer created her own beauty dish out of a turkey pan that cost just $2.99, and the resulting image is indecipherable from the image taken with a professional beauty dish.

PHOTO:  Jeff Sheldon

6. Photoshop Curves -

In the age of technology, photographers are inundated with post-production software. But Photoshop is still one of the best tools for editing photos. One of the most frequently used tools by professional photographers is Curves. Curves is similar to Levels, except that it offers more variations. Curves plays with light exposure and tonal ranges of an image. After choosing Curves in Photoshop, give the line you see an ‘S-curve.’ Your image will become crisper and your tones will become more natural.

7. Perfecting Post-Production Skin Tones-

By shooting in natural light, photographers sometimes end up drawing out every skin imperfection in their subject. Most of these imperfections are not visible to the naked eye and end up looking unnatural. Photoshop’s Subtle Skin Soften tool allows a photographer to subtly soften the skin back to its natural appearance, without making the image appear heavily retouched. The Rouge tool in Photoshop will restore a natural glow to skin that may have been washed out through over-exposure.