model face portrait photography golden hour

Shooting With Natural Light

Shooting with natural light is full of unpredictability, which is exactly why many photographers find it challenging and exciting! Ever since starting my photographic journey, I’ve always been drawn to natural light because it allows me to create a certain atmosphere and, thus, translate the idea I have in mind into a photograph.
Light is a crucial element to photography: no wonder the word photography itself means painting with light.

As much as studio photographers love the control the studio environment provides them, I love the spontaneity and adrenaline of catching the perfect ambient light.

These are some of the most common natural setups:

One of the first rules you learn on a photography course or class is: don’t shoot with your light source positioned behind your subject. That is – don’t do it unless you want to break the rules and have fun experimenting! The lowering sun during the golden hour is perfect for backlit photos because of the softer shadows it casts. Tip: if you want to see the model’s face in the image, overexpose it and bring back the contrast in post!

portrait photography model with a mask
This photo was shot with my model Mietta Bobanović near an amusement park where was our primary location. The sun was setting low and I positioned Mietta in front of the sun, the backlight casting a warm tone to the image.

During a sunny day I prefer to shoot in the golden hour that enriches photographs with a beautiful warmth and glowing colours. The few minutes after sunset, with their cooler tones, are superb to use for a darker theme, but it’s important to have everything already prepared because it gets dark super quickly. Shooting at noon, especially in the summertime, is not such a good idea: the sun is set at almost 90 degrees, casting deep dark shadows underneath the model’s face. In that situation, I would either use a reflector (as seen in this video by Lindsay Adler), or opt to shoot in the shadows instead.

model face portrait photography golden hour
I shot this with my friend and model Lisette Nikol during the golden hour in summer. The light had a specific warm glow that looked beautiful on Lisette’s blonde hair.

Although the images taken on an overcast day can sometimes seem flat, I love shooting under a grey sky! Clouds act as a giant softbox, evenly dispersing sunlight that goes through them, which makes cloudy days great for portraits!

portrait of a model shot during a cloudy day
A shoot with the model Michelle Korenić was done under a thick layer of clouds that diffused sunlight in a flattering way.

One great thing about sunny days is playing with shadows in all ways possible. Use a hat with tiny holes, tulle, lace, plants; basically anything where a beam of sunlight can get through!

self portrait photography face girl with plants
A self-portrait shot in the last sunny minutes in the evening of a summery day, a plant’s leaves helped create interest crossing the face with their shadows.

This one is my absolute favourite! It produces soft shadows that don’t lack depth, and is ideal for portraiture because it shapes model’s faces in a very pleasing manner. Placing the model closer to the window will have a ‘retouching’ effect on the skin, evening out pores and pimples, while placing the model further away is suitable for moodier shots. Depending on the day outside, it can result in warmer or cooler tones, so plan your shoot accordingly.

self portrait photography using window light
Self-portrait done lying on the floor below a big window.

photographer self portrait with cameraAbout the author
Hi! I’m Isabella and I’m a photographer, blogger and applied arts graduate. I love spending my time creatively, or watching movies, drinking tea, playing with my cats and hanging out with friends.
Find me here or on Facebook and say hello!


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