As a rookie photographer or even as a semi-pro, you will know that without light, a photo cannot exist- it would just be darkness. It is no surprise that even though lighting is the most basic element, it is the most important element to taking a good photo.
It is also the element to your photo that when changed can make the biggest impact on the end result.
For many years it has been understood that you cannot beat natural light when taking a photo.
While in some cases this may be true, harnessing the power of natural light is challenging as it changes constantly and so you only have a small window in which to take your intended shot, provided the weather on the day is favorable and you aren’t running behind.
So to use natural light, you really have to understand how to use natural light and also need to know how to deal with its changeable nature.
However, the world has progressed and so you can get similar if not better results from artificial light in a studio.
Using artificial light to mimic natural light can be a bit daunting at first- not knowing what equipment to buy, not knowing how to set it up properly to get your desired results, etc. and even once you know these elements to set up, they may still be time-consuming as you may have to set up the equipment in different locations depending on what you are trying to shoot.
It is also important to remember that there is no quick-fix or one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to achieving the correct lighting for different subject matters- each case is different and will require different lighting.
However, because your light source with artificial light is constant, you have much more control over the light and how the photo turns out. With artificial lighting, you can be more creative and it can help you push more boundaries as a photographer.
This short guide will give you insight on the type of equipment you need, examples of that equipment, and how to set it up so that you mimic natural light perfectly.
The Lighting Source
When it comes to the actual light that you will use to take your photos, you have a few options that you can use to imitate natural light, namely, speed lights or flashguns, studio strobe lights, and continuous lights. These lights are off-camera and are used as a light source for your photo (acting as the sun).
Speed lights/ Flashguns
These are portable or off-camera flashes that can be placed in the slot on the top of a camera (the hot shoe) and used or “fired” or can be used wirelessly with a remote on a cold shoe. They are light and easy to move around and set up is a breeze.
Studio Strobe Lights
Strobe lights work in a similar way to the speed lights but are usually powered from the mains rather than a battery or they have a very large battery. They have high recycle times which means you can shoot consecutive shots very quickly one after the other without having to wait for the flash to catch up.
These lights are more stagnant light types meaning you don’t typically move them around once they have been set up they are quite hefty and less portable than the other two options but the benefit of continuous light is that you can see how the light is behaving in real-time and you can then make adjustments more easily.
A great example of a continuous light to use in photography is the Pixapro LED 200D MkIII.
The second piece of equipment typically needed to create natural light artificially is the light modifier. This piece of equipment is arguably the most important piece of equipment because it modifies how the light behaves and gives you the control on creating natural light in an artificial way.
The modifier helps you control the size of the light and how soft or harsh the light is. If you are looking for a soft look, you will need a bigger light source.
Soft light is when the shadows around your subject don’t have a hard edge and blend more gradually from dark to light. Harsher light has more defined shadows and contrast between the dark and the light.
When using a light source like a flashgun, the light that comes from the bulb is very concentrated and directional so it produces a harsher light, creating defined shadows and contrast. When you use a modifier, the light is more dispersed and thus creates a softer light.
It is important to note that the distance the light source is from the subject also places a role in controlling how the light is reflected.
If you are unsure what modifier you should use, a good bet is Octaboxes or a recessed softbox. PixaPro 120cm octagonal soft box with double diffusion or Neewer 32 inches/ 80 centimeters Octagonal Softbox are good examples of kit.
The last piece of equipment considered a must-have when creating natural light is a white or silver reflector. These are large opaque panels that bounce some of the light back onto your subject from a different direction to the light source to help soften shadows even more and so they help brighten things up a bit.
If you are after a darker, moodier look, you can opt not to have this piece of kit. Neewer 43 Inch/110 Centimeter Light Reflector 5-in-1 is a great option for beginners.
Now that you have a good understanding of what type of equipment you need, here are a few setup examples to achieve natural light with this type of equipment.
Depending on your subject matter and the look you are trying to achieve, you will need to learn different setups.
To create this, the softbox (the light and modifier) needs to be set up behind the subject matter and needs to be set higher above the set angling downwards so that there is no silhouette created and so the actual light is not visible in the shot.
Be sure to use the correct focal length lens on your camera and then place your camera on a tripod and move your light around. It is important to use your reflector in front of your subject matter and angle it towards your subject.
Here, you need to position the light source at a diagonal from the subject to give the shadows a specific direction and again, the light needs to be raised above the set, angled downwards.
The reflector would then be placed opposite the light source to create a brighter look. If you are after a darker shot, omit the reflector.
If you are new to off-camera lighting this may seem like a lot of new information but the best thing to do is play around with your equipment to create the natural lighting you are after. The setting up gets easier and easier the more you do it.
If you have had any hesitations to using artificial lighting to create natural lighting in your photos, hopefully, this short guide has helped diminish those and to see that it is not as complicated as it looks.