How to Find Good Natural Light for Portrait Photography

Shooting portraits in natural light only works well if you have a good light source. Here’s how to find it, even in tricky locations.

Natural light is both a blessing and a curse for portrait photography. If the light is good, it’s easy to get beautiful and interesting results. Otherwise, you practically can’t work with it and will have no choice but to use flash. Therefore, half of the work is looking for the kind of natural light that works for the look you want. In a quick video, Sean Tucker brings some tips for finding natural light when shooting portraits, even in locations where it may seem to be difficult to shoot.

How do you recognize good light? Sean finds this to be one of the most important questions, yet difficult to answer. Every photographer eventually finds an answer that best works for them. But if you’re not there yet, Sean shares his own approach and thinking on composing and exposing portraits in natural light in the quick video below, which is part of his “Good Light” series.

Sean described a typical scenario for most photographers who head outdoors to practice shooting portraits with their friends. Not all spots are ideal for flattering portraits of course, and more often than not you’ll come across a place where the background works but the lighting is a bit tricky. So, you’ll need to do a bit of troubleshooting and adjusting for this.

A great example is an alley he demonstrated in the video, where the natural light was nicely diffused, but coming from above so it created a “panda eyes” effect on the subject. The surrounding dark walls also deepen the shadows on both sides of the subject, creating a nice shape on the face. To address the “panda eyes” issue, he simply uses a white paper bag as a makeshift reflector placed under the chin to fill in the shadows on the face. This also adds catchlight on the eyes to add a bit more color and life to the iris.

What we can learn from his example, therefore, is to look for a location that has big diffused light, with shadows that produce a pleasant contour on the face. A reflector will also come handy for making small but effective adjustments, so keep a portable one with you at all times!

We hope his tips gave you some ideas and inspired you to examine the quality of light and shadows around you. Now, it’s time to shoot and put everything into practice!

Don’t forget to visit Sean Tucker’s YouTube channel for more of his photography tips and tricks.

Screenshot image from the video