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This post was most recently updated on Feb 13th, 2022

There are so many fantastic lighting techniques that can be used in photography that help to improve the appearance of your photos. Arguably, lighting is one of the most important things you need to consider in photography.

While you can edit the brightness or contrast of a photograph, these edits are based on the natural lighting that is already present. Without good lighting, you will not be able to capture an image well.

While you can use artificial and stage lighting to improve the quality of your photographs, in some instances natural lighting is the better option to use, especially if you are looking for a softer lighting option.

But, what is natural lighting, and when should it be used?

In this article, we will be discussing everything you need to know about natural lighting, and how it can be used to enhance the photographs you take.

What Is Natural Lighting?

As its name suggests, natural lighting uses the sun, which is a natural light source, rather than ones that are artificial. The light used is from the environment, rather than from artificial lighting such as studio lights, or soft boxes.

Natural lighting is a particularly great type of lighting to use, and it is always recommended utilizing where possible, especially if you are looking to shoot outdoors.

Sunny days provide some of the best natural lighting, and it means that you don’t have to worry about compensating for the lack of lighting by using artificial light sources.

If you are shooting outdoors, it is always best to utilize natural lighting where possible, and it allows you to edit a photo more successfully too when it comes to this process because the photograph will be clear.

When it comes to natural lighting, while bright days are great for outdoor shots, so is the golden hour. This is something that is popular with photographers, especially if they are looking for a bright, but soft light source.

There are two times of the day where photographers can make use out of golden hour, just after the sun has risen, and just before the sun is about to set. The lighting is less harsh, and redder in its color. This translates particularly well to photographs.

While natural lighting is fantastic, when it comes to an overhead sun, in some instances this can create shadows within a photograph that you will want to avoid. This is why many people prefer to shoot at golden hour, as there are fewer shadows.

Remember that natural lighting can be utilized indoors too. It is a useful option to consider if you are looking for a more “authentic” feel to a photograph. However, you need to have a good understanding of the different types of natural lighting and how to use each for the photographs to be completely successful.

As we have already touched upon, natural lighting can look vastly different throughout the day, and you will want to use the best lighting hours to your own advantage.

For example, if you are looking for blue lighting undertones, dawn is the best time to photograph, for the warmer color tones, the evening before sunset is the best option to consider.

As natural lighting changes with the weather conditions, it is always best to check the weather forecast to help ensure the natural lighting conditions are suitable for you. The shadowing created from the sun will also change throughout the day. This is something that you can utilize depending on the photographs you are taking.

However, in some instances, the shadowing created by the sun at specific times of the day can interfere with your shots if you do not intend for them to have shadows. You will need to adjust the times in which you shoot to help combat this.

When Should Natural Lighting Be Used?

There are many times in which natural lighting should be used. However, lighting is subjective for the most part and the lighting techniques used will vary depending on the individual photographer and the purpose of the photoshoot.

Even so, if you are shooting outside, it is always best to utilize the natural lighting and use it to your advantage. The photographs taken will look more natural, and the lighting will be a lot softer in comparison to the brightness that artificial lighting creates.

As natural lighting differs, and can change quite quickly, the only downside is that it is not consistent in the same way as artificial lighting. This can be an issue if you need to use consistent lighting throughout.

In addition to this, the type of natural lighting that is present will have a greatly different effect on a photograph. For example, a photo shot at golden hour, on a sunny day, and on a cloudy day will look vastly different from each other.

This is why you need to ensure that you are adjusting the shutter speed and aperture settings on your camera to keep the quality of the lighting more consistent.

If you are looking for a softer and more organic photograph, this is when natural lighting should be used. The natural shadows and highlights natural lighting creates can be difficult to replicate with artificial lighting. As a result, a photograph will look more natural when natural lighting is used.

When you are shooting on a budget, natural lighting is the easiest option to consider as it’s free. While artificial lighting is useful, it is not always necessary or needed, especially if you are shooting outdoors.

This is why it is so important to have a good understanding of natural lighting. This will give you a better idea of when the best time to shoot will be, depending on your project.

It is also useful to note that natural lighting doesn’t just occur outside, and it can be utilized indoors too. Natural lighting is almost always present in some form. It can be used to create natural photoshoots indoors, especially if you are shooting in a room with large windows, and you have a lot of access to the natural lighting.

Golden hour can create particularly great lighting for an indoor setting, given the redder color and softness. Ultimately, you can use natural light in any way you find useful. It can be used solely, or you can choose to pair it with artificial lighting, especially if you are shooting photographs indoors.

Summary

Natural lighting is certainly something worth incorporating into your photography, especially if you are looking for a more authentic and soft lighting. While it is not always the most reliable lighting source, it does allow photos to look more realistic, and when utilized correctly, it is fantastic.

There is no specific time in which natural lighting should be used as it has its pros, and does artificial lighting. The option you use will depend on the type of photographs you are taking, and the aesthetic of the photo.

Always remember that natural lighting is not completely reliable, and the temperature and brightness will vary throughout the day. This can cause photos to look slightly different if you are shooting for a number of hours, and it is worth keeping in mind.