Tips to Improve Your Natural Light Portrait Photography

Today, I am going to share with you. How you can best utilize natural light, things to look out for what metering modes to use, what camera settings to use. And also going to take you to step by step through the three most popular natural lighting I use in my own portrait photography. Which are diffused light, harsh sunlight, and backlight

Outdoor Portrait Photography

Diffused Light for Portrait Photography

The first natural lighting scenario, I want to get into is diffused light.  This is when you’re shooting in undercover areas where you have ambient natural light. When you are shooting in overcast, Cloudy weather and you’re taking photos in shady sports.

Model Photography

So, basically diffused lighting is when the sun is not hitting your subject directly in any way. Diffused lighting can be used for creating soft images, moody portraits, clear images where you can see a lot of detail in your subject and the background. Diffused light can be really flattering for the skin.  And I find that photos taken in this kind of lighting can make colors appear more vibrant and contrast, Which is really nice to accentuate beautiful locations and outfits. I find that when you shoot portraits in shady spots, the color of your eyes can be special striking, which I love.

Portrait Photography in Overcast Weather

This is arguably a lot of portrait photographers’ favorite weather to shooting. Personally, for me, I have the most fun when I have some sunshine to work with but I can understand why. Since Overcast lighting is flattering for the skin. You’re not limited to what direction you can shoot in. And the lighting stays the same for the majority of the session. 

Wedding Photography

When it’s overcast, even though the lighting can look pretty even, I find that sometimes there is still a light source that you need to keep an eye on. If you have the sun behind the subject, It can create shadows on their face, which can be distracting even if they are diffused.  To get your portrait to pop, I like to have the sun pointing towards my subject. This will get rid of any shadows and emphasize a face in a portrait.

I also avoid the sky in my photos as much as possible. Overcast Skies are white and can look really boring and your images. So try to incorporate more of the location and play around with the angles that you’re shooting from.

Shooting in the Shade

A super easy thing to look out for in the locations you’re choosing for your portraits is to make sure both your subject and the background of your photo have the same amount of shade. If your background is in the sun and your subject is in the shade,  The photo will look really unbalanced. My last tip for diffused lighting is when you’re shooting in an undercover area. So maybe you’re shooting in a greenhouse or a car park or an abandoned building.

model photography in the shade

Basically anywhere that is undercover, where you’re still making use of the ambient light to light up your portrait. To get the best results, I make sure that my subject is facing the direction of the strongest natural light.

Direct Harsh Sun For Portrait Photography

Next up, we have harsh sun, Which is when the sun is directly facing the subject. This can be tricky lighting to us, but it can look so good to create vibrant, high contrast photos with an editorial or fashion feeling. It’s also really handy to create some sticking close-ups with. I like to think of the harsh sun as a studio light expect you have no control where to position it. You have to wait until the sun is in the right direction to be able to shoot.

Model photography in the harsh sun

I prefer shooting with harsh light during the morning or the afternoon when it’s closer to the horizon as it’s going to be more flattering for portraits since the sun is only ever facing a particular direction. You can be limited with the poses and directions your subject can face. I do like this as being restricted can force you to camp up with more creative ways to shoot and make that particular lighting work. But here are some things to look out for with harsh direct sunlight.  First are the shadows on the eyes.  You want the sun to be hitting the eyes as much as possible since they’re the most important part of the portrait.

Nose Shadow

Make sure you angle your subject in a way that they don’t have a long nose shadow going across the face as this can distract from the overall portrait. Similar to when your shooting in the shade. If you want your subject to be the main focus of the images. Look for shade in your background while your subject is the direct sun. When you expose for your subject,  The background will appear extremely dark.

Close Eyes

On the other hand, if you want to see your environment make sure to look for a location that has the sun hitting make sure to look for a location that has the sun hitting both the background and your subject.  One last thing I wanted to mention when it comes to shooting with the direct sun is that it can be difficult for you’re subject to look into the sun or just in the general direction of the sun. 

So, something that I ask them to do is close their eyes, While we get into position. An I get my camera settings correct. And then I count them in to open their eyes when I’m ready to take a few photos. So, I like to use spot metering for harsh sun portraits. The reason for this is that the subject being correctly exposed is yet again my main priority. If you’re shooting a more environmental portrait with the sun hitting the backdrop and your subject. Then you won’t have as many issues since the lighting is the same everywhere in the frame.  

If you’re taking a shot where your subject is in the sun, but the background is In the shade. You want to make sure you are exposing for your model. If you have evaluative metering here, you might end up with over-exposed skin. Since your camera might want to compensate for the dark background.

Back Light

Backlight is when your sun is behind your subject and the sun is pointing towards your lens. In my opinion, this is the dreamiest of all lighting scenarios. I love using this lighting to crate soft and whimsical photos. I love using this lighting to create soft and whimsical photos.  Photos in the backlight can look both washed out and contrast depending on how you use the sun. You can make it use in camera lens flares and light leaks with props. It’s really flattering for skin and it’s super easy to capture a nice variety of photos, too. Form close-ups to full body.

If you’re using a DSLR and you’re struggling to find a nice backlight to use, I  would recommend you turn on your LCD, ask a subject to stand in one spot, and walk side to side, Checking out how the light is changing in your frame and what it looks like on your subject to find the best spot to shoot from. if you need some editing you can do it own yourself or use a photo editing agency

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