Natural Light Photography: How to Take Great Photos, Naturally

Natural light photography is a crucial skill that every photographer needs to master. Whether you're interested in portrait photography, landscape shots, or candid moments, harnessing the power of natural light can elevate your portfolio and enable you capture high-quality images with minimal equipment.

In this blog post, we'll explore the essential tips and techniques for mastering natural light photography, discussing various aspects of lighting in photography and how to use it to your advantage.


Understanding the Essence of Natural Light

Natural light photography, also known as natural lighting photography, relies on the illumination provided by the sun, moon, or any available other source of naturally occurring ambient lighting. Here are some key points to remember when working with natural light:

  1. Types of Natural Lighting
    • Direct Sunlight:
      Direct sunlight can be quite harsh, especially in the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest. It can create strong shadows and highlights. To soften this type of lighting, try shooting during the 'golden hour' or 'magic hour' (see below).
    • Diffused Light:
      Overcast skies and shaded areas provide soft, diffused natural light that minimizes harsh highlights and shadows, making it ideal for flattering portrait photography.

  2. Golden Hour Magic
    The so-called golden or magic hours are the first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset. These times of day typically offer a warm, soft, and flattering natural light, presenting a golden opportunity for natural light photographers to capture stunning images with a magical touch.

Mastering Exposure in Natural Light Photography

Proper exposure is vital when working with natural light. Here's how to get it right:

  1. Spot Metering
    Use your camera's spot metering mode to meter the light on your subject's face or the most critical area of your shot. This helps ensure that your subject is well-exposed, even if the background is much brighter or darker.

  2. Exposure Compensation
    Experiment with exposure compensation to fine-tune your exposure settings. Increase the exposure value (EV) for a brighter image or decrease it for a darker one. This technique allows you to maintain the natural look of your scene.

  3. Use Reflectors
    Reflectors are a natural light photographer's best friend. They bounce sunlight back onto your subject, reducing harsh shadows and creating a more balanced natural lighting setup.

  4. Backlighting for Drama
    Experiment with backlighting to add drama and depth to your images. Position your subject in front of the light source, allowing the natural light to create a beautiful halo effect.

Harnessing the Power of Composition

  1. Golden Ratio and Rule of Thirds
    When composing your shots, remember the golden ratio and the rule of thirds. These principles help you create balanced and visually pleasing compositions, making your natural light photography even more compelling.
  2. Utilize Natural Framing
    Incorporate elements like trees, windows, or archways to frame your subject naturally. This technique draws the viewer's eye towards your subject and adds depth to your photographs.
  3. Leading Lines and Symmetry
    Use leading lines and symmetry to guide the viewer's eye and create a sense of balance in your photos. These compositional techniques can enhance the impact of your natural light photography.

Working with Your Portrait Subject

  1. Communicate with Your Model
    In portrait photography, communication is key. Talk to your model and guide them on how to pose and work with the natural light. Do your best to make them feel safe, comfortable and confident during the shoot.

  2. Candid Moments
    Try capturing authentic, unposed moments in natural light. Candid shots often reveal genuine emotions and reveal the true character of your subject in ways that posed shots cannot.

  3. Use Props and Accessories
    Props and accessories can add interest and narrative depth to your photos. Experiment with them to enhance your natural light photography.

Understanding Light

Learning to pay attention to light is one of the quickest ways to improve your photography.
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Post-Production and Retouching for Natural Light Photos

While natural light photographers often aim to capture a sense of authenticity, careful post-production can help improve an image without making it look artificial. Try using editing software like Photoshop or Lightroom to fine-tune exposure, contrast, and colours. This will help you achieve the best possible version of an image without sacrificing its natural essence.


Natural light photography is a rewarding genre that allows photographers to harness the beauty of natural lighting. By understanding the different types of natural light, making the most of the golden hours, using accessories like reflectors, mastering exposure, and applying tried-and-tested composition techniques, you can create stunning images in any setting. If you're shooting portraits, remember to communicate well with your subjects. And of course, always use post-production judiciously to enhance your natural light photography without sacrificing its inherent charm.

Learn the fundamentals of photography by downloading our free 90-page eBook, An Introduction to Photography.

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