In Defense of Natural Light for Photography

In Defense of Natural Light for Photography


In this video, I want to talk about why shooting
with natural light is awesome. So I’m Daniel Norton, photographer in New
York. I make videos like this about philosophy,
technique, that kind of thing. If you’re interested in photography, or business
and creative stuff, go ahead and subscribe, and we’ll get right to it. So if you’ve watched much my videos, you might
be surprised by me making that statement, because I’m often talking about how you need
to light things and lighting things is what kind of being a photographer is about. And I do think that’s true. That’s not changing my mind. This isn’t some radical change. But at the same time, the idea of being able
to work with what’s available to you and see the light is going to become really useful
to have to, especially if you want to work as a location shooter. So for a few reasons. Before I get into that though, I’ll I’ll start
by saying So I was very much a, you know, once I learned how to light or started to
learn how to light, I became very much a lighting person. And I guess I still am. But at one point, I was living actually, in
Miami. And with this beautiful light everywhere,
right? And working on a lot of commercial projects,
and everything, there’s lit, you shouldn’t chrome and it’s like this and you know, it
was really super produced. And I started looking at some photographers
works that I really liked, they were kind of a little bit more, a lot of black and white
stuff kind of a little bit more funky. And as I started looking more and more and
I realized that these people were actually using natural light, like they were finding
really cool like pockets and areas of light that were evoking these like really interesting
images, you know, so I thought wow, that’s super cool, you know, and, and I went out
and you know, tried to do it, and I sucked at it right because I was so much in tune
with lighting stuff. In The studio that I didn’t know how to find
or locate or work with the beautiful light that was around me. And it was funny I mean I made that realization
and I said well you know, I want to focus on this so I started doing test shoots, specifically
not bringing any lights with me what I would always do is I y ou know, when I to this day
I do this, I would bring lights of me everywhere I go and then if I could shoot you know, with
some of them are less of them, whatever, I would do it but I always had lights with me
but I made a change. I said, You know what, I’m going to shoot
100% with light I can find and I’m going to make it work. And it didn’t take me that long. You know, because I was already experienced
photographer and whatever, you know, and I really, you know, put my mind to it. It didn’t take me long to start to figure
it out. And what was great about it was I really feel
like learning how natural light or available light works allows you to create more interesting,
you know, lit shots will call them lit shots like you know from from from a photography
lighting point of view Meaning that like, I think when people learn how to light in
photography, many people they, you know, I’m not one to use a lot of these different terms
and stuff, you know, they’ll be like broad light, short light, butterfly Rembrandt, and
they learn these like things, this is what you do this is what you do. And the reality is is that in life light do
esn’t, you know, often look exactly like that, although it does do it at some points. And when you want them just to evoke certain
feelings and certain emotions, you kind of want to go away from this kind of standard
stuff because people are used to seeing that light when they see it. It feels artificial to them, you know? Yeah, during certain times a day like the
sunsets coming down, light is come across beautiful or coming through a window, you
might get a beautiful Rembrandt pa-pattern somebody’s face. But generally speaking, that’s not the type
of thing that happens when you’re sitting in an office and you know, which is how we’re
photographing let’s say a corporate portrait, right? Doesn’t, doesn’t feel right doesn’t look right. It looks artificial, which is not necessarily
a bad thing. But when you want to create things that have
a real feel to them, A real natural feel you need to understand what natural and we’ll
call existing light does. Because I think when a lot of people say they’re
natural light photographers, what they mean is they shoot with the light that’s there. So that doesn’t mean they don’t turn on a
lamp next to a bed in a hotel room, if they’re shooting some moody shot in there, it doesn’t
mean that they don’t go under a streetlight, it just means that they don’t use photography,
lighting. Now, I think and I’ve said this before, limiting
yourself to do that is actually, you know, as a photographer is really not a good idea. Like you really want to know how to light
and create. But I do think in testing and trying, putting
that bond on yourself and being like, I’m not going to use any artificial light for
this. I’m going to go out here with this idea. I’m going to try to find the light that gives
me the thing I want. I think you’ll find even if you don’t succeed
in getting exactly what you thought you were going to get. You’ll find that it’ll improve your lighting
because you will start to think about light differently because you can’t just put it
exactly what you want it so you have to be like okay, the light is like This I’m going
to make this compromise and sometimes that compromise actually produces a better photo
than you originally thought because it just does you know, because sometimes when we push
ourselves beyond what we’re thinking it actually improves our work. So I think, of course this time to start thinking
about it because it’s getting cold. And you know, I start thinking about that
now I’m going to be trapped in the studio you know, all summer like I’m in the studio
shooting because I love lighting and everything and not not thinking anything up because I
could step outside anytime. But now it’s starting to get cold right now
I’m starting to think, oh, man, I have to shoot in the studio. So it’s, it’s it becomes a little bit of a,
you know, a pressure whereas in the summer, I could walk around shoot available light,
although I will say that the light, I’m, you know, I’m in New York, the light in the fall
is probably the nicest light, just generally speaking, there’s just less of it. You know, the sun is a little bit lower in
the sky. It’s got a little it’s crisp, there’s something
to it. So the fall light is beautiful. There’s not a lot of it. Which limits, well you know, when we can shoot. That’s kind of a side thing but anyways I
think what what I would want you to get from this if you’ve been watching a lot of other
stuff and now you’re looking at what is that if you are lighting stuff and you feel like
you’re you’re finding you’re not able to be as creative or or you find yourself doing
the same thing all the time put down the lights get a subject whatever it might be it could
be you know if you’re a product photographer could be flowers it could be a product it
could be a could be a person if you’re a portrait photographer if you’re a people photographer
like me and go out there and in the available light and I will say this to wouldn’t I lived
in Miami we shot catalogues a lot of that was done with available light because the
availability of battery powered strobes was not you know, not what it is today. And also there was this different style you
know, kind of covering a model’s head with with a with a silk and with a nice soft overhead
light and then in the background blow out, it was very much kind of a style and it still
is I guess some stuff you know, it was just how we chose to shoot it. If when we would shoot products like that
to you know, like we’d be shooting the catalog We’d have like, you know, whatever 6-10 dresses
whatever to shoot in thethe day. And then you might have like, some accessories,
you know, and you put them down, you know, on the stairs at the mansion that you’re shooting
at, and you’d use a silk or reflector and shoot it with the available light. Because again, we didn’t have the flash that
can operate out there with no with no power. So it is definitely something that you can
use. What ends up happening is if you know as I’ve
said in other videos, if you only rely on available light, then you’re going to find
yourself sometimes not being able to succeed in creating the shot you need to create. So in those cases with the product, we would
always do them because we were there and it was cooler, but there was always a day slotted
for studio product stuff as well just to be sure we got it all just in case. This was more like we shot it because we had
time and you know we’re there. So anyways, that’s kind of the sideline, again,
make a lot of these little sidelines, never a straight path, but I think it all kind of
ties together. That’s why so this is what I would say before
it gets too cold. Go out there. I mean maybe you’re in the south and it’s
never cold, go out there and shoot with some natural light. Look for some stuff, Give yourself two assignments. Number one to think of a way you want the
light to look like something maybe you normally do in the studio, let’s say it’s Rembrandt
lighting, you’d like that style. Go out there and find that find that in available
light, whether it be you know, artificial available light, or it’d be meaning like stuff
that’s already there, like a light the room or you know, light in a store, and then also
go out there and just find some light you really love that’s available light, and then
try to recreate something like that in the studio. So do those two things. I think it will really improve your work. Maybe you’re already doing this, let me know
Do you guys like to shoot with different stuff? I know that I got a lot of feedback on my
natural light kind of bashing video. So you know, we’ll see what people say about
this one. I think that mastering all types of light
is important as a photographer and you can’t ever say, you know this type is bad or that
type is good. It really depends on what you’re doing so
called out there and try those things. If you guys haven’t already, please subscribe
and ring the bell and I’ll see you next time.

21 Comments

  • mavfan1 says:

    I agree completely. I always feel like rolling my eyes at anyone who says there's only one way to do anything.  
    Shooting without artificial lighting can include using multiple reflectors or using buildings and/or the ground to reflect the light so it's not just simply using the sun. You can end up with as many, or more, light sources than you would in a studio.

  • Alfredo Hernandez says:

    This one was easy for me, mostly because I started out as a Natural Light shooter. Since learning how to use flash lighting I personally prefer it to natural light, But I still occasionally shoot natural light. Mostly because that's a style that is very popular on Instagram and a lot of my clients refer to that style because they seen a photo on IG that they would like to try. So I still shoot both styles, but I prefer shooting in the studio where I have more control over the lighting and environment, especially because here in Arizona it gets ridiculously hot most of the year outside!

  • Ole Reidar Johansen says:

    Love shooting with my Profoto B10s. I learned lighting with them. Now I prefer natural light, but it’s just not available all the time so I always bring my own in case. Btw thanks for liking one of my lit photos on Instagram a few years ago Daniel 😉

  • Todd says:

    This is so funny Daniel… I woke up around 4:30 this morning, with some thoughts I captured on this same subject. Not so much looking at the characteristics of natural light (you don t have access to its on/off switch, you can’t control its angle, you can’t control it intensity, you can’t control how it shows up – defused, hard, etc…), but more along the lines of how to use it. The “natural light” paint can needs a different brush to reach the paint and it’s not a bad thing to know how to “get that paint”. At the same time, I do agree that a person who calls themself an auto mechanic but only uses screwdrivers is missing out on the experience of mechanics, because they limit their experience and understanding of those engine parts that require socket wrenches or other different tools. One would also think that the Natural Light photographer has a bag with way more (low light f/1.2+) expensive lenses to aid them in capturing during those low light situations, which reflects someone really trying to master that. Anyway, great video sir!

  • Momchil Karchev says:

    I used to say as a starting hobbyist photographer "ill just shoot natural light", so i tried and i had a few awesome portrait shots of friends, but after a while it kind of felt limiting even for my completely amateur ass. Everything started feeling kind of samey, even tho we did different locations and times of day.I have a friend that thoroughly enjoys modeling for me and even tho shes not a pro model she's quite beatiful with a lively expression and watches tutorials and learns and improves every shoot. And we live in a country with all 4 seasons and that further limits my available photography time (i also have a small business)so i kinda stopped shooting at all. So i decided one day (couple of weeks ago) to rent a speedlight and a shoot through umbrella to see how it goes…aaaaaand now i own 2 speedlights, umbrellas, an octa, a 2×3 softbox, light stands ,reflectors and a massive burning desire to shoot. It just felt so liberating shooting with controled light even tho i knew fairly simple basics and was testing them on myself. We even booked a luxury hotel suite with my friend for the 25th of december just so we can learn and experiment and dabble in all diferent kinds of styles uninterrupted. And meanwhile i discovered your on set streams and then your personal channel and ive just been devouring the content youve put up so i can be armed with knowledge when the time comes. So just take it as a loooong winded expression of my gratitude for the stuff you do.

  • Ryan Tanaka says:

    Nice video Daniel. Good job explaining why it’s key to know both types of lighting. I shoot in a lot of restaurants, and natural light is preferable but often not available. In these cases, it’s nice knowing how to approximate it.

  • Mr Dev says:

    Recently I've been following some "Light Painting" videos on Youtube, One guy goes out at night and shoots old tractors and abandoned buildings using only (as a light source) a flashlight. Then, through the magic of photoshop brings it all together to produce some jaw dropping fine art images, something I can't wait to try myself 😊😊

  • Larry Brandt says:

    I agree with you 100%. I underwent (probably still undergoing) a similar process when I realized that I was to a large extent ignoring the natural light because I had my strobes with me. I am definitely not a fan of blown out backgrounds from certain "natural light" photographers, but once I find the optimal place for my subject with regards to the natural light, then I can use my flash to tweak that existing light by using my strobe and getting a much more pleasing exposure. I've more than once had my assistant shlepping a light with a softbox on a shoot, only for me to shoot everything with existing light because there was no need for the strobe at all, but it's certainly good to have that option available!

  • Lousdembergue Rondon says:

    here the sun light is always hard…….. It's difficult to find a soft light… So I look for a shadow and I use a speedlight……….

  • EDC Gadgets says:

    5 Years ago when I started my on location portrait photography business, I always carried those softboxes and speedlights with me, but aftet shooting like that for 1.5 year, I realized 3 huge drawback:

    – Although lighting equipment does allow you to shape the light and chose ANY composition for your photo, the problem is, that it does limit the type of locations where you can shoot at. My style is "street style" photography, where I take photos of my clients in the downtown, on the street, in coffee shops, train stations, etc, and you literally can NOT have all the permission to shoot civilian portraits with lightstands on these places.
    – Even if you have permission, the clients usually feel quite intimidated by the lights, and it takes even longer than usual to calm them down, as opposed to just a "friendly walkaround in the city" and taking photos. So if not necessary, I will not stress my civilian clients with this, if not needed.
    – And last: although flash gives us possibility to shoot ANY composition, it always takes quite a bit of time to move around the lightstand, adjust the height, angle, measure the light (not to mention that it's almost impossible to pre-measure with HSS…). So with freedom comes slowness, and fewer amount of variety that the client can choose from.

    My case is very specific, because I can organize my shoots around sunset almost all the time, and I can shape the light by using my environment (darker building for shade, lighter for reflecting light back etc). And of course it sometimes requires a bit of post processing, but it's not more than I would spend fiddling with the lights.

    Of course I do have my professional lighting equipment with the 3-4 feet octa boxes, grids and stuffs, and I DO know how to use them, but I only use them like 10% of the time, when I have to shoot something VERY specific and the composition is given. So yeah, the locations and my style transformed me into a "natural light shooter" during the years.

  • Alan Johnstone says:

    Thanks Daniel, the fall light is different and it is more directional from the south as zip towards winter. i live in a house that faces west and I watch how the morning light coming in on our east facing kitchen affects the way things look light and shadow wise. Have a Good New Week.

  • Jamie Maldonado says:

    I love the staged lighting I have done, but I got to where I would look for light that naturally fell more like that, and find it a lot easier to think about the photograph when I'm not trying to keep a flash from blowing over, or fidgeting with a remote that isn't working for some reason, etc. I am definitely glad I've learned how to light artificially, though, because it definitely taught me a lot about finding and modifying existing light. Agree 100 percent!

  • Noealz - Rain Photography says:

    Always a great topic Daniel : )

  • Tom Corbett says:

    I have learnt so much from you Daniel I'd just like to thank you!…… I'd love to see More shoots like this from you in available light outside? With maybe 1 Speedlight, flags and reflectors only…. Let's face it that's what 80% of us have. We don't have access or the budget for to hire a studio and lighting when we are still learning if you get Me. Hopefully that will come later on! 🙏

  • michael s says:

    D Norton..

    Here is my take.I used to shoot film and had a decent TTL flash,and then when i was shooting APS-C,i used the flash on top on the camera,my Sony.Most of the time though,with the Sony,since it worked well in low light,i used whatever lights were around.I did one shot up in New Rochelle,at a fountain,that would have taken at least 10 lamps and other stuff to replicate in a controlled setting.Those lights there were already installed,so i moved around until i figured a great angle to shoot from.Now,I only have a manual Godox,yet since i shoot now with my full frame outside in the streets,i shoot in AP,because scenes and lighting change in the blink of an eye,or from one spot to another.

    NYC provides so much light,so much color,so many different looks,so you do not have to be stuck in any mindset/set of rules.You can shoot on Canal,walk three blocks,and shoot a portrait of someone on a cobblestone street,walk another three blocks,and head towards Chinatown,getting images along the way.Besides,in MY personal experience,I get more acceptance to shoot as i do,because i dont have a flash mounted,and dont carry or mount a tripod.Not having certain items to work with has probably trained me to understand how to handhold and how light can make a difference…

  • Mike James says:

    Thanks, Daniel! Yeah… There are sooooo many ways to achieve a good result, and it's best to learn all of them that you can, so you're not "stuck", unable to shoot. I shoot all year round, outdoors mostly, and love that challenge. I almost always carry a couple of speed lights with me, along with some simple modifiers, and that has paid off many times.

  • William Palmer says:

    Once again Daniel, excellent session. I always look forward to these because of your natural and easy going style plus the value of your subjects and your views. Keep it up, thanks!

  • Terry Cullinane says:

    What concerns & annoys me is these anti flash natural light YouTube “photographers” with huge followings that rarely if ever use scrims or reflectors let alone flash to improve/control ambient light but fix poorly lit/exposed shots in Post…..setting a poor example for their multitude of followers!

  • Mathew Barnett says:

    I really appreciate all the information you give us. Got my first ever light modifiers from adorama the other day. have always just worked with available light because I didnt understand how to use the artificial stuff. That is all changing and am now on the hunt for a good flash meter. Thanks man!

  • Lojan Su says:

    Just wanted to say that I love listening to your videos while I am editing/working Daniel! You are one of the few great mentors I've had the chance to discover! Thank you for doing these useful and honest videos!

  • Andrew Chisholm says:

    First ever model shoot I did was in the Botnical Gardens in Glasgow so not using flash at all and it was the same for the first few shoots. I now mainly do studio days as my sight has gotten worse over the past 2 years and a studio there are less things for me to fall over. I still use natural light when I can but also bring in flash and reflcetors etc

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