The Simplest Tricks for Perfecting Your Natural Light Photography

PHOTO: Sihana Shalaj

PHOTO: Sihana Shalaj

Los Angeles is a mecca for film and photography, in large part because the city has ample natural light year-round. So it makes sense that people working in a business that thrives on light, might eventually make their way here.

But being flooded with natural light isn’t really enough. You must also know how to utilize and manage that light to your benefit. There are dozens of variables that affect natural light and therefore will affect your natural light photography. Variables such as weather patterns, time of day, location, camera settings, they all must be tweaked and harmonized to capture the perfect picture. While it is an art and not a science, there are a few very basic rules of thumb that can help you take the picture.           

1. Indoors.

If you’re trying to capitalize on the natural light inside a photography studio, make sure the studio has a lot of windows. But maybe more importantly, make sure the studio has light “controls.” By that I mean doorways that can let light in and close light out, corners that create contrasting shadows and other interesting nooks. If you are shooting in a studio comprised of just one large open room, you will likely need several photography tools such as diffusers and reflectors. But if you want to shoot solely with natural light, you will benefit from a space that is more dynamic.

Find a place that has it all. Windows, doors, maybe even garage doors. You will want ample light, but “the more the better” isn’t necessarily the case here. You also want unique ways of shutting off light.

Also, turn off the lights. Nine times out of ten, a window will provide all the light you could possibly need. You simply need to move your subject closer or further from the window to determining just how much light that window is giving off. There are a couple of reasons you often see a photograph of a person gazing out a window: 1) Because it is dreamy and makes the person look contemplative and, 2) Because the light from the window contrasts from the shadows that are formed on the other side of the subject creating a dynamic photo.

This photographer has written a very detailed tutorial on natural light portraits and how she captured various moods using different cameras, lenses, shutter speeds and angles.

2. Aperture Mode.

Shoot in Aperture Priority Mode. This will allow you to choose your aperture and therefore control how much light you are letting into your lens. If you are shooting in a photography studio, you will more likely use a wide-open aperture to let in more light. This means lowering your f-stop (aperture number), to open your aperture.

PHOTO:  Ryan Tauss

PHOTO: Ryan Tauss

3. ISO.

While it is always a balancing game, there is a general rule of thumb when it comes to setting your ISO. Generally the brighter it is, the lower your ISO number needs to be. Again, while this isn’t a hard-set rule and may change depending on various variables such as location, here is a simple infographic on ISO settings, and how to adjust your ISO depending on the light source and time of day.

4. Hard light. Soft light. And backlight.

Depending on what you’re shooting, you will want different types of natural light. Hard light, or that harsh light you get during mid-day, is great for architecture and contrasting bright colors.

Backlight, created when placing your subject in front of your light source, is best to do at the beginning or end of the day, when the sun isn’t too harsh. Backlighting creates very dynamic photos and can be very compelling, but it can also be tricky. You may get lens flares. Professional photographers can makes these flares look unique and intentional. It simply takes practice.

Soft light is typically used for portraits. Soft light will downplay any flaws such as dark, under eye circles. Soft light can be obtained with diffusers but in the right room or photography studio, you will not need any tools. You will simply be able to position your subject accordingly and the natural light in the room will do the rest.


CALLING ALL PHOTOGRAPHERS: Month of Photography Los Angeles 10th Anniversary Edition is open to submissions now through November 30, 2017. Submit to