The Phoblographer’s Guide to Better Portraits in Natural Light

Before we begin this article, let’s make this clear: never call yourself a natural light photographer. But beyond that, know the basics. Portraiture is hard enough but actually make the most of natural lighting is really a skill. It isn’t as simple as going out there and just shooting. Indeed, knowing how to use natural light in the best ways has to do with actually knowing how to look at light and judge how it will appear in an image.

Though we always tell folks to learn how to use a flash, here’s how to make the most of what you have if all you have is natural light.

Steer Clear of Reflective Surfaces…Most of the Time

Reflective surfaces can often add too much glimmer to a photo or they can make you appear in the image itself. But when used correctly, they can enhance an image. For example, if the light is bouncing off of a brick wall and your subject is by said wall, it’s going to bounce red lighting into the the image and therefore affect the way that their skin looks. However, this works best with darker skin complexions.

Find Locations with Even Shade Coverage

If you’re having a tough time shooting in the sun, then move to the shade. The shade does many things: if give you a more even exposure to work with in the scene, it softens the light available and it allows for consistency that therefore lets you focus on just creating the images.

Consider the Details in Their Posture


This wouldn’t be a portrait guide if we didn’t talk about posture–which has nothing necessarily to do with natural lighting.


Depending on how the subject is positioned, these two infographics can help.


Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Cinestill 800T sample photos (29 of 31)

The best times of day to use Natural Light for photos: You’ve heard of the golden hour, but what do you know about the blue hour? We use our expertise to tell you when you should go shooting.

Natural Light and Wedding Photography: We give you tips on how to make the most of natural light at a wedding.

The Three Items Every Natural Light Portrait Photographer Needs: A reflector is a must! But so are the other two.

Taming Mid Day Lighting for Portraits: There are many times where you’ll only be able to shoot in the middle of the day. Here’s how you can make the best of that time.

Our Introduction to Better Backlit Portraits: Shooting portraits with the sunlight behind the person can deliver a beautiful photo that make effective use of a single light source. Here’s how to make the most of it.

How to Take the Best Advantage of Natural Light: If you’re looking for a bunch of basic tips on how to actually take the fullest advantage of the light, here’s how.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.