Natural light photography can be challenging. The sun is bright and the subject is likely to move so there are lots of opportunities to miss capturing a moment. There are some techniques you can use to improve your chances of success.
Choose a location.
A window or open door can provide beautiful light. When you are choosing a location you should ask yourself if it has a window. Even if it does, you may need to use some props to create the desired light. For example, a table or mirror placed in front of the window will reflect sunlight and diffuse it around the room. You may also use a reflective material to bounce the light onto the wall behind your subject.
Use a flash.
The flash gives you an instant burst of light and will ensure that you capture sharp, even images. There are many different flash units available. A studio flash unit will produce soft, diffused light and is usually used indoors. A pop up flash may be used on a tripod outdoors or in a window. To use one you need to find a suitable position for the flash head.
When using a flash, you should turn off the camera’s auto flash mode, and switch to manual. This will ensure that you can control how much light you expose your photo.
You might also try using a fill light. This will help balance the light from the flash. A softbox is ideal for this purpose. To use one, position it so that it adds to the light you already have.
Shoot at midday.
When the sun is low in the sky the light is soft. When it is high, the light is harsh. In between these times it is a good time to photograph.
Take advantage of shadows.
Some locations offer interesting patterns of shadow. Try to find a place where you can photograph using the shadow pattern as part of the composition.
If you feel like you are going to miss a moment, just keep shooting. You never know what the next image will be.
Use natural light when it’s available
If there’s no sun, use artificial light, or even just turn off your flash. When you use flash, it tends to wash out the colors in a scene. You can use a flashlight, but it’s less effective than a tungsten-balanced spotlight.
If it’s bright outside, get dressed appropriately, but remember to use a hat, sunscreen and protective clothing (especially if you are sensitive to pollen). If you are shooting in windy conditions, use a wind screen.
It is important to set the camera up correctly and adjust the white balance before you shoot. There’s a lot of information on the internet about this, so do some research and read about it. The exposure is also critical and this needs to be done properly to get good results.
In terms of equipment, it’s always best to have a full-frame DSLR with a zoom lens. This will enable you to shoot at a reasonable distance and still get in close. If you have a compact camera, the focal length will be very short, which will mean that your subject will be too small to capture in one shot. A wide-angle lens is also useful, especially if your subject is distant or you need to include a landscape in the shot.
Consider using a polarizer. This filters out reflections on shiny surfaces and enhances the color. If you can find a polarizer with a removable filter holder, this is convenient. Also consider using a neutral density (ND) filter. This will let you reduce the amount of light coming into the lens, which will allow you to capture a brighter image without blowing out the highlights.
Shoot early or late in the day
The best light is early or late in the day. The sun is higher in the sky, so it casts sharp shadows and its rays are lower in the sky. The color temperature is also cooler, which means colors are more vivid. Shooting early or late in the day also lets you avoid the direct glare from buildings.
Shooting later in the day, when the sun is low in the sky, can result in overly warm colors. You can also get strong reflections from glass, water or wet leaves.
Use your camera’s features to improve the quality of images
You can use a number of features in your camera to improve the quality of your images.
Shutter speed – Shorter shutter speeds allow you to capture sharper images. Experiment to find out what works best for you. Shutter speed should be between 1/50 second and 1/8000 second.
Aperture – A smaller aperture allows you to take a more shallow depth of field. This will allow you to keep a subject in focus while blurring the background. Try to keep the aperture as large as possible, but never go over f/8.
ISO sensitivity – If you are shooting in a low-light situation, such as when the sun has gone down, you will need to increase the ISO sensitivity of the camera. This will let you take a brighter image.
Exposure compensation – Use this feature to compensate for the lack of light by increasing or decreasing the exposure. It’s often better to under-expose the image than to over-expose it.
White Balance – Your camera has a built-in white balance setting. It is generally recommended that you leave this set to Auto, unless you know exactly what the lighting is like in the scene you are photographing. You will need to change the white balance manually if you shoot indoors or in a dark environment.
Don’t forget about the background
Don’t ignore the background. It’s often forgotten about, and the colors will wash out if the light comes from the wrong direction. It’s important to shoot in front of the subject, not behind it.
When you are shooting, pay attention to the background. Is it interesting? Is it distracting? Could it affect the composition of the shot?
Learn to be comfortable with “boring” photography
You’ll probably have to shoot a lot of images of the same thing, in the same way, over and over. This might not be so enjoyable. But, if you persevere, you’ll develop your eye for good composition and you’ll learn to see the potential in an everyday scene.
Consider taking a course in photography. There are plenty of photography classes available, and if you don’t already have a camera, they will help you learn how to take better pictures. You can also buy an inexpensive compact camera and take some workshops with it.