Finding the Light, Part 1: Using Natural Light to Create Standout Photos

One of the most important factors in a good photo is lighting. You can have the perfect settings, great exposure, and even knockout composition, but if you don’t have good lighting, your image will fall flat. In this new series, Finding the Light, we are going to be talking about how to find and work with all types of lighting. Our goal is to help you understand how to use the light you have to create powerful, standout images. Today we are kicking off by talking about using natural light to your advantage, but if you’re just joining us, you can follow along with the rest of our series here:

Part 1: Finding the Light
Part 2: Using Shadows for Dramatic Portraits
Part 3: Shooting the Golden Hour
Part 4: How to Shoot in Harsh Light
Part 5: 3 Ways to Use Window Light
Part 6: Creative Light Sources

To kick off this series, I reached out to San Diego wedding photographer, Melissa McClure, and asked her to share how she finds and analyzes light. Get ready, because she has some awesome tips and insights on using light for you!

Using Natural Light

One day it just clicked. It’s hard to explain it, but I saw light differently. I was driving and happened to look over at an empty grass area and the beautiful golden rays of sunlight were streaming through the trees. My first thought was – don’t crash. Followed by – I need to shoot here. I need to get a bride and groom in that tasty light. From that day on, I understood light and how I needed to shoot to make it work for me when shooting in backlit situations. Here are some tips:

Look how light plays on things in nature.

Sit in a park and see which way the trees are making shadows. Look at blades of grass and how the sun affects them. Look at strangers walking by and what shadows do to their face. Open shade is always going to be the most creamy light – but challenge yourself in case one day that’s not an option.

Using Natural Light

Pick an object in your own front yard.

Maybe a lawn flamingo (yes I have these). Maybe a plant. Photograph it every hour at the same angle. Compare those photos all at once and see how the light plays on the object as the sun changes.

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Hold your palm in front of your face.

Now turn a full 360 degrees and keep your eyes on your palm. How is the light changing? Do you see which would be the best light to put a client? Easy trick if you need to think fast!

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Diffuse the sun.

If you can place your couple in pretty back light and then use a tree or large bush (or building) to block at least part of the sun – your images will have beautiful hair light and be nice and crisp!

Using Natural Light

Don’t be afraid to change your mind.

If you put a couple in a spot that you think will be great and realize that 10 steps forward would be better? Ask them to move. You are the professional and our clients count on us to be in charge of making them look their best in photos!

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And as usual – Practice, practice, practice!

It’s the only way to really learn and grow. Get out there and shoot! Pretty soon you’ll start noticing light in everything you do.

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Follow along here for more in this series on Finding the Light!

Part 1: Finding the Light
Part 2: Using Shadows for Dramatic Portraits
Part 3: Shooting the Golden Hour
Part 4: How to Shoot in Harsh Light
Part 5: 3 Ways to Use Window Light
Part 6: Creative Light Sources