Natural Light Photography Tips from National Geographic Photographer Bob Holmes

If you prefer working with natural light for your photography, you will definitely pick up some great tips from National Geographic photographer Bob Holmes.

As basic as it is, shooting in natural light (or available light) remains popular among photographers because of its simplicity, convenience, and beautiful results. Many photographers prefer to work solely with natural light over using lighting equipment — and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you can produce great photos and achieve your intended results with this method, then, by all means, go with it. But, it requires a lot of practice and learning to be able to make the most of it. You have to be able to understand how light creates and affects your image. National Geographic photographer Bob Holmes, who only does natural light photography, gives a bunch of great tips on how to get stunning photos in this method.

In the video below by Marc Silber of Advancing Your Photography, Bob Holmes talks about his preference for shooting in natural light and why he doesn’t look for any assignment that requires him to work with strobes. He also gives a rundown of some tips and tricks he has found useful and allowed him to produce outstanding work.

Let’s quickly recap that:

  1. Look at light as the camera does. He says this is the secret to photography, especially when it comes to working with natural light. The camera records light and dark differently than our eyes. Our eyes tend to compensate, but the camera just “sees” a scene as it is. We can use it to add drama and amplify the impact of the scene.
  2. Practice and shoot under different lighting conditions. This will help you get used to different scenes until you know what the end result is going to look like.
  3. Always check your camera settings — especially your ISO — before you take a shot. With today’s cameras, it’s so easy to forget about these things.
  4. Learn when to use Rembrandt lighting and Vermeer lighting. Studio portrait photographers are familiar with Rembrandt lighting, but Holmes uses this term differently. He describes it as a steady source of light emanating from within the frame which creates a dramatic effect on the scene. Vermeer lighting, meanwhile, is light that comes through a window and creates a soft and flattering effect on the subject.
  5. Make sure the eyes are well lit. This is important when you’re shooting portraits.
  6. Work with sunlight, not against it. There will be moments when you can use the harsh light of midday sun to create some dramatic results.
  7. The best time to shoot is still the “Golden Hour.” This is when the light is prettiest. “Out after the sunrise, dinner after the sun sets.” But, don’t forget the “Blue Hour” as well. Try experimenting with the blue light during the twilight and warm light of artificial indoor lights.
  8. Always expose for the highlights and let the shadows look after themselves. This will help you avoid details getting blown out.

Now, we also have to understand the context of Holmes’ preference for natural light photography. He’s a travel photographer, so he doesn’t have the luxury of working with a lot of equipment such as strobe lights — equipment gets in the way, as he even stressed. Sure, he can lug around one of those portable strobe lights, but it’s most likely not practical for those often on the run. He also doesn’t have the luxury of waiting or spending time setting up additional equipment. So, take those all this into consideration when you’re studying these tips.

If you liked this video from Advancing Your Photography, don’t forget to check out their YouTube channel for more photography tips and tricks.


Screenshot image from the video