Natural light is one of best light sources for photography. Most artificial lighting is designed to emulate natural light. So why is it that so many established professionals cringe when hearing the phrase “natural light photographer” like it was nails on a chalkboard?
The answer is pretty simple. The problem is that when we see a photographer marketing themselves as a “natural light photographer,” it typically means that they are exclusively natural lighting in that they do not use any type of flash or other equipment. This in and of itself is not a bad thing. There are certainly valid reasons to use natural lighting. The problem is that the reliance and natural lighting becomes less of an aesthetic choice, and more due to a lack of familiarity with the basic fundamentals of portrait lighting.
There are six main types of portrait lighting; short, broad, butterfly, loop, Rembrandt, and split. Which type of lighting to use is dependent on the subject’s face, and the emotional impact the photographer wants to achieve in the portrait. Going into detail on each lighting type is well beyond the scope of a single blog column, but suffice it to say, experienced photographers are well acquainted with the different types of lighting and when to use them.
I actually love shooting in natural light, and use it whenever I can, as shown in the photos below. Broad lighting is makes a face look wider and more masculine, and short lighting tends to make a face look narrower and more feminine. When shooting a bride and groom near open windows, I turn them towards each other, and position his back to the window. This simple posing automatically puts his face in broad light and hers in short light.
What I learned when studying studio lighting is how to be a better work with natural light. I caution new photographers to really evaluate what they mean when they describe themselves as a “natural light photographer,” because it comes off as so limiting.
Each image below is an example of natural light photography describing the thought put into classical portrait lighting techniques.