The Myth of the Natural Light Photographer

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Samsung 50-150mm f2.8 OIS review product images (5 of 10)ISO 4001-40 sec at f - 4.0

There comes a point in the life of every photographer where they’re bound to say a single statement that either enthralls the uninitiated or makes the more knowledgeable roll their eyes. This statement is said in five short words: “I’m a natural light photographer.”

Now, this shouldn’t offend you at all. Some folks are genuinely natural light photographers because of the type of work that they do–and so they spend their hours quite literally chasing the light in order to make a living or to one day make it their sole source of income.

Again: they spend their hours quite literally chasing the light in order to make a living or to one day make it their sole source of income. These photographers spend lots and lots of time watching the weather forecasts and determining just the right spots and times to go out and take photos. There are hours of prep and lots of conceptualizing done to make the most of the small window of time.

And again in case it isn’t hitting you: we’re talking about pros and aspiring pros.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Essentials Medium Format Beginner (6 of 6)ISO 1001-125 sec at f - 4.0

These photographers are not the ones that are the focus of this article. Why? Because they’re learned how to actually utilize light no matter what type it is and they learn how to read it and make the necessary adjustments.

The other breed that we’re talking about are those that hide behind a veil–stating that they only shoot with natural light in some phony effort to make themselves look more nouveau than thou. But what they’re actually saying translates into: “I have not a damned clue how to use a flash, but I’ll use constant lights.”

These photographers are the ones that fumble when they score gigs that require the use of a flash, knowledge of how to set it and work with it,  They’re also the ones that go on to tell clients that they have to wait until there is a cloudy day to shoot in order to get the softbox look. To no end, these are the photographers that fake it in order to make it.

The “Natural Light Photographer” also refuses to learn how to use artificial lighting–and typically work instead to simply capture a scene that someone else puts work into rather than actually manipulating the scene to be what they want it to be. Oftentimes, it’s also fair to say that these shooters don’t necessarily have a creative vision of any sort.

So what’s the problem?

It’s a sign of weakness and it’s nothing but a lie to yourself when your portfolio can lack what a true creative and knowledgeable strobist can create. These other photographers can theoretically shoot anytime during the day or night and usually find a way to make their images look like it was shot at any time of the day.

Further, you’re only hurting yourself. Top sushi chefs don’t say that they can serve puffer fish unless they absolutely know how to do it. The best way to actually learn how to light is to adopt the mentality of being an available light photographer. The use of reflectors, umbrellas, flashes, monolights, softboxes and more are the only things that can help you achieve a more tailored vision because there is only so much that you can do with natural light until all of your images look the exact same and someone figures out a way to mimic your technique and do what you do for cheaper.

And if you’re going to shoot in only natural light, at least learn to get exactly what you want and need in a single shot the way that medium format film photographers and large format photographers used to do.