One of the tenets behind being a photographer is the mastery of light. Cameras and lenses aside, light is the most important element in image-making. Many professionals prefer to shoot with artificial lighting thanks to how it helps to deliver consistent and repeatable results. However, artificial lighting can be intimating. The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced new challenges as well. Even for photographers comfortable shooting with artificial light, not all of them own artificial lighting or have access to it while sheltering in place. The good news is that natural light is still available (provided that the weather cooperates). And as long as there’s light, we as photographers can create. Right now, the simple act of creating can be an important therapeutic exercise for many. Check out these natural light photography tips to help you create great images even when you’re stuck at home.
Shoot Wide Open, But Be Sensitive About It
One of the benefits of natural light is that it’s generally always available. If you’re photographing indoors, though, it may not always be strong enough to illuminate your scene or subject. This is where lenses with bright maximum apertures come in handy. Shooting wide open with fast lenses allows as much light to hit your camera’s sensor as possible. There will be times when there just isn’t enough light even when shooting wide open (think overcast days or during twilight hours). Thankfully, most modern cameras perform reasonably well in moderate lighting conditions. Don’t be afraid to raise your camera’s sensitivity to compensate. Unless you’re shooting in extremely low light situations, grain shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
Be Mindful of Your Surroundings
One of the challenges that come with shooting at home is that home isn’t generally designed for photography purposes. So, don’t forget to do some tidying up before you start shooting to help reduce distracting elements from appearing in your images. Consider moving any bright, bold colored items out of the frame. Even if you’re shooting wide open, these out of focus elements can still pull attention away from your subject.
If you’re living somewhere where it’s safe for you to be outdoors, this opens up some creative possibilities. Utilize frames and/or leading lines in your environment. Things like doors, driveways, or fences can be used to help compose your images. These are especially useful tools when it comes to portraiture. We’d hold off on photographing anyone other than those you’ve been sheltering in place with though.
Diffusion Is Key
Natural light can be pretty temperamental. Sometimes there isn’t enough of it, and other times there’s way too much. Shooting at home using natural light can be an ever-evolving challenge. If you’re photographing indoors, there’s some good news: the natural light entering your space will generally already be diffused. If the sunlight coming through your windows happens to be particularly strong, drawing your curtains can help soften its harshness.
If you’re able to photograph outdoors, a scrim will allow you to diffuse harsh sunlight in a similar fashion. Overcast days are generally your best friend though when it comes to photographing outdoors in natural light. The clouds essentially function as gigantic scrims to help diffuse the harsh light coming from the sun. On cloudless days, look for open shade. The ambient light under open shade areas will be less harsh than direct sunlight. Just be mindful of color casts from surrounding environments.