How to Master Backlighting for Natural Light Portrait Photography

Want the dreamy look that remains popular in portrait photography today? You might want to learn how to master backlighting when shooting in natural light.

If you hold a preference for natural light portrait photography, you might find backlighting as one the effective techniques to use for creating dreamy images. It’s not as simple as just shooting outdoors with the sun behind your subject, but a technique with the goal of a moody yet balanced look for portraits. In this quick video tutorial, Sydney-based fashion photographer Julia Trotti show us how it’s done and we can master it. Backlighting is just one of the techniques at your creative arsenal once you choose to do portrait photography in natural lighting. It gives your photos that dreamy and flattering look that many photographers are going for fashion editorials, wedding photography, and even themed portraits. With Trotti’s tips, you can start experimenting with this technique in no time.

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An Introduction to Shooting Portraits in Natural Light

Don’t have a strobe or not sure how to use one? You can still create some good portraits using natural light

Photographing portraits using natural light as the sole light source have become such a rage lately that some photographers have branded themselves as “Natural Light Only Photographers.” While you can certainly create some stunning images with the proper use of only natural light, understanding how light behaves and being able to harness light in all of its forms, natural or otherwise, will help shape you into a better, more complete photographer.

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This Photography Meme May Trigger a Certain Type of Photographer

If you’re a photographer, get read to either laugh or feel very triggered.

There’s a funny meme going around on Facebook and now Instagram that is essentially harmless, but is so close to the hearts of many different photographers. It’s a play off of an old Batman comic where Robin is being slapped by Batman. It has been used for a number of different subjects, but the most recent is with regards to natural light photographers. Now, we’ve spoken about this subject many times in the past, and have been met with opposing criticisms as well as praise. The majority of us are very pro team “make your own lighting and use all available lights.” And many times, the term “Natural Light Photographer” is often just seen as a crutch.

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Creating Stunning Portraits Using Beautiful Golden Hour Light

While you don’t need the golden hour to get the best portraits, it surely does help.

For the uninitiated, Golden Hour describes the short, fleeting period of time just after the sun had risen or immediately before it is about to set. During this momentary window, the sun appears very close to the horizon and produces a quality of available light that tends to be beautifully diffused and typically embodies a warmer tone than usual. Portrait photographers, particularly those that rely heavily on natural light, often prefer to photograph their subjects during these ephemeral minutes because of the beautiful quality the light imparts onto their subjects. We have a wealth of tutorials here on The Phoblographer that cover topics such as portrait subject posing as well as how to best interact with your subjects to bring out the expressions you’re looking for, but for the purposes of this particular tutorial, we are going to focus specifically on the challenges that you will likely come across when photographing portraits during Golden Hour and what you can do to combat them.
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How to Edit Underexposed Natural Light Portraits on Lightroom and Photoshop

If you’re shooting a lot of natural light portraits, you might want to get some editing tips from this workflow tutorial if you like underexposing to retain details.

Whether you’re shooting more natural light portraits by choice or because of equipment constraints, it’s worth learning how to edit your photos from a variety of shooting conditions. Today, we’ve got a workflow video tutorial for you in case you often underexpose your photos to get more detail out of the scene or background.

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Please Stop Calling Yourself a Natural Light Photographer and Learn How to Light

To light, or not to light, that is the question.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone say, “I’m a natural light photographer,” there would be enough money in my bank account to take off three months out of each year to travel for the fun of it. To the uninitiated, the proclamation that one only shoots in natural light may sound like a badge of honor, but to most working professional photographers, this concept is confounding at best and downright ridiculous at worst. Be that as it may, there is a growing legion of photographers who have embraced this “natural light only” mantra due either to their inexperience with utilizing lighting equipment, or out of some misguided notion that the “natural light look” is somehow superior. What if I were to tell you that all light, natural or otherwise, behaves identically regardless of the source, provided that you are photographing someone on planet Earth? If you understand principles of lighting and how it behaves, you can make artificial light sources look like natural light, and turn day into night, or vice versa. Being able to shoot 24 hours a day means that I can adapt to the needs of my clients as well as challenges posed by mother nature, which translates to more billable hours and more income. Sounds a lot better than only being able to photograph client work while the sun is out, doesn’t it?

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Three Modern Day Masters of Natural Light Street Photography

Ask a photographer what the most important aspect of a good photo is, and they will tell you it’s good light. 

Lighting will make or break a photograph. You could have the most interesting subject in the world, but if it isn’t lit well then you may as well forget about it. From softboxes to strobe lights; flashguns to Rotalights, we have come with wonderful ways of ensuring our sensors capture the best possible images. Unlike manufactured light, however, ambient light is much trickier to take control of. It often requires being a tad more creative and working with what you’ve got. That, overall, demands an adaptable mind that enjoys playing around. With the great work being produced underneath the earth’s sun – let’s take a look at the modern-day masters of natural light.

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Seven Reasons Flash Is Superior to Natural Light for Portrait Photography

Do you want more or less control over your lighting when photographing portraits?

With the number of portrait photographers proclaiming that they only shoot in natural light perplexingly on the rise, one begs to question why someone wouldn’t want to have full control over how they lit their portrait subjects. This is something that photographer Craig Beckta addressed in his latest video, where he shares the seven reasons why he believes flash is better for portraits than natural light.

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Golden Hour is Truly Your Friend for Natural Light Portraiture

For a simple yet lovely natural light portrait shoot session outdoors, you’d need an eye for detail, good gear, and good weather. 

If you’re planning to conduct a natural light portrait shoot sometime soon, you don’t have to look any further than this behind-the-scenes video by Toronto-based photographer Lee Zavitz of the YouTube channel Zed Pro Media for some inspiration. In his vlog, we can see Lee and his model Keira making the trip to a nearby park where cherry blossoms were in full bloom for an impromptu shoot. The only cameras he used were a Fuji X-H1 and a Sony A7III.

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How to Shoot Moody Natural Light Portraits

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how you could create moody portraits, courtesy of photographer Ben Chambers.

We’ve featured a ton of tutorials on taking natural light portraits by many talented photographers here on the website. Today, we’re adding one more. If you’ve always wanted to perfect shooting moody natural light portraits, this tutorial by Australian wedding photographer Ben Chambers of Bach Photography is for you. In Ben’s 12 minute-long tutorial, uploaded on his YouTube channel, he showed the process of how he created a particular portrait shot, as seen above and below. He took the photo with a 5D Mark IV and Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art Lens but said that similar results can be achieved with an APS-C camera with a 35mm prime lens.

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See Tatyana Zadorin’s Quick Demo of a Natural Light Outdoor Portrait Shoot

Screenshot image from the video by Tatyana Zadorin.

Using only the bare necessities, photographer Tatyana Zadorin was able to pull off a pretty cool natural light outdoor portrait shoot when she traveled to South Carolina, USA to visit her family.  The seven-minute behind-the-scenes video titled Natural Light OUTDOOR Portrait Photography – Behind the Scenes mostly showed Tatyana demonstrating how she made use of her Canon 5D Mark III and a couple of lenses Canon lenses with 85mm and 35mm focal lengths. She also offered the settings that she shot her photos with for those who want to emulate her images.

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Quick Tips on Shooting Natural Light Portraits Indoors

Screenshot image from the video by Marc Klaus

Have you ever tried shooting natural light portraits indoors? It’s always worth a try because it could be a pretty fun and educational exercise, considering doing so would force you to work with whatever light you got to produce the best possible images you could.

Shooting indoors using available light and minimal gear and props is pretty easy, as you would observe in photographer Marc Klaus’ seven-minute behind-the-scenes video. Throughout this clip, you’d see that his models actually had more outfit options than he had cameras and accessories combined.

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Natural Light vs Off Camera Flash for Outdoor Portrait Photography

Learn how to work with both natural lighting and off camera flash outdoors in this quick portrait photography tutorial.

Spotted a picture-perfect location for some portrait photography projects and practice? Working with natural light isn’t your only option to get some impressive shots. In this quick video, find out what you can achieve with both natural light and off camera flash, and decide which look you want.

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Rebeca Camino Reimagines Futuristic Fashion Portraiture in Ethereal “Vacuum”

All images by Rebeca Camino. Used with Creative Commons permission.

When we speak of futuristic fashion portraiture, we typically expect it to be dominated by neon colors and/or space-themed elements. The moody works of Alexander Berdin-Lazursky and Elizaveta Porodina’s Neon Night are perfect examples. Once in a while, however, we come across some works that challenge this tried and tested formula, often with stunning results. It can be as stylized as Colin Anderson’s stylish Mission to Mars, or as simple yet ethereal as Vacuum by Rebeca Camino.

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Rebeca Camino Makes Dreamy Conceptual “Illusion” Natural Light Portraits

All images by Rebeca Camino. Used with Creative Commons permission.

A significant portion of portrait photographers hold a strong preference for natural light portraits over studio setups, for a good reason. It allows you to shoot right at the comfort of your home or on location without the need to set up any equipment other than your camera. There’s also often more than one way to play with the available light, as we’ll see in this beautiful set of creative portraits by Spanish photographer Rebeca Camino.

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Quick Tips for Shooting Natural Light Portraits Outdoors

One of the best places to shoot natural light portraits is, well, outdoors! Find out how you can use the natural light available outdoors in these quick tutorials.

Previously, we’ve shared an Adorama TV tutorial by Mark Wallace showing how to shoot natural light portraits indoors. But of course, that’s not the only way to work with natural light. If you want to try shooting portraits outdoors, where there’s plenty of natural light, here are a couple more quick tutorials to help you get beautiful results!

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How to Nail Beautiful Portraits When Shooting in Natural Light

Getting beautiful portraits in natural light is one of the first things you can start mastering today with this quick tutorial. 

Whether you’ve just started learning how to shoot portraits or a little further into it, working with natural light is one of the most useful tricks to have as a portrait photographer. It may not always be as simple as pointing your camera on your subject beside a window, but this quick tutorial by Mark Wallace for Adorama is easy enough to get you started.

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How to Shoot Better Black and White Portraits With Natural Light (Premium)

Natural light portraiture is a passion of so many photographers out there.

But for many of these photographers, there’s a little formula that they always do. It goes something like this: aperture priority, focus on the eye, shoot. That’s it. There’s nothing more to it. And for the most part, it’s copied over and over again because it works. With black and white photography, that idea can surely work. However, there are other things that a photographer can do to create even better photos.

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Five Tips and Tricks to Shooting Portraits Indoors with Available Lighting

Available lighting for indoor portraits doesn’t have to be scary, it really doesn’t.

If you are shooting portraits, then you are probably doing at least a portion of your images indoors, especially during the winter months. You may be wondering how you can take advantage of available light indoors for portraits; maybe for stylistic reasons (you like the look of it better) or for other reasons (like not having to cart around a crap ton of lighting gear). Whatever your reason, it is totally possible to make the most out of available lighting for portraits indoors.

Today we are going to be talking about some tips and tricks you can employ to get a better handle on available light portraiture indoors. It’s not as complicated as you are making it out to be in your head. It really just comes down to being able to see the light and knowing what you want to do with it in relation to your subject.

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How to Achieve Great Portraits in Open Shade Lighting

Here’s how you can take advantage of open shade lighting to get beautiful portraits.

Whether you’re not yet well-versed in studio lighting setup or simply prefer shooting in natural light, here’s an easy tutorial that will help you get stunning results. Just look for a location with open shade lighting and you’re halfway there! Mark Wallace demonstrates how you can work with this simple but clean lighting for your next natural light portrait sessions.

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Using Strobes to Enhance the Sun in Portraiture

Strobes are the best for so many reasons.

So many photographers out there rely heavily on natural light for their outdoor and indoor portraits, but many of you also make use of external lighting sources like strobes or speedlights. One great way to make use of both methods of thought is to use a strobe or speedlight as a fill light in your natural light portraits instead of something reflective, like a 5 in 1 reflector. Continue reading…