Natural Light Photoshoot: No Equipment, No Excuses

Let me admit something: I'm not a technical photographer. Bless those that fuss with all of the specs and have an analytical approach to photography, I suppose that I rely on my own method. As a self-taught photographer, I acquired knowledge by watching other photographers create. Each had their distinct style, some were technical and others instinctual but each was equally an artist.

There wasn't a shoot that I was too good for and every time I saw a photographer with a camera, I'd stop and watch them work. What an honor it is to see an artist at work! 

Engagement shoot at Laguna Beach? Sure, don't mind if I do! I'd sit back and watch them work and my distance varied as their sense of comfort changed. I looked at each engagement session as a mini-workshop that lasted a few minutes, or an opportunity to learn one new thing.

Fashion shoot on the streets of Hollywood or Downtown LA? OK, I'll pull over for a bit and look at how they shoot. Did people wonder who I was and perhaps even laugh at me? Who cares! What others think of me is none of my business. Once I decided that I was to learn photography, there wasn't anything about to get in my way. I watched things like the type of light, how far the crew members stood from the photographer, and the type of clothes people wore on set. Education is everywhere! 

Between using what was available around me and YouTube, I was adding skills and technique all the time by just watching. Isn't it beautiful that each photographer has their own style? I'm not talking about their obvious artistic style, I mean their creative process.

I saw it over and over, from photographer to photographer and across all possible budgets. They each spoke to the models in their own way, used the sun in their unique ways and none ever duplicated each other. Call me sappy, but I find that beautiful and think each photographer's method is something worthy of observing.

You can learn from the newbie first holding a camera to the one shooting their 1000th subject. If you haven't yet stopped to watch someone shoot, I suggest you do. Don't look - watch them work. Soak it in. Put all prejudice aside and see what you can learn from them. 

In the video above, you can watch me shoot Todd, an actor and model, based out of Los Angeles. I chose Todd and did this shoot for a series of reasons which are addressed below and in the video.

I give commentary throughout the video, giving you notes and feedback. This is my process, probably vastly different than yours but I hope you learn a thing or two from me.

My Breakdown of the Natural Light Shoot

Use the Sun

I photographed this tutorial towards the late fall, and I consider the sun from about late October to late March as being the best light. The sun is low and you avoid those hideous raccoon eyes from the summer midday sun. The low angle reminds me of a fashion light, helps get a nice jawline. I don't need a bounce, as the sun illuminates all of the face and avoids the bad shadows. Learn the sun and use it to your advantage.

Winter sun is a cleaner light. In the summer, we have a very orange sunset. I've heard it is from the pollution but I find it nearly unusable. If you're outside of a big city, you probably have a much better sun than us. Use the sun! After all, studio lights are based after the sun. Just go to the free source that inspires all types of lighting equipment and it's accessible to all.

Small Town Reality, Big City Dreams

"Walid, I don't live in a big city where all the modeling agencies are based." - OK, I do understand that and while living in New York, Los Angeles, or other modeling hub cities can be advantageous, it does not disqualify anyone else. 

To prove my point, I found Todd on Model Mayhem. Yeah, I'm not going to preach something and then do something else. The vast majority of times, I book from reputable model agencies out of Los Angeles. In this scenario, I found him on Model Mayhem to prove a point. Proof that you can still find great talent out there if you look.

Disclaimer: Todd now has a great agent but I found him on Model Mayhem originally.

The Broke Photographer

In this video, you'll see me shooting without an assistant. I did not use any lights or even a reflector. I had a crop sensor camera (Canon 7D) and one lens. Maybe you don't have a lens of your own, but you might have a friend that you can borrow from? 

I Can't Just Always Use the Sun

Who says that you cannot use the sun on every shoot?! That's nonsense and I highly advise you to shoot with sunlight until you feel you've mastered it. You're telling me that you cannot use this glorious ball of light that is more reliable than me or you? It's more reliable than your camera and car. Use the sun! 

It'll take some time for you to "master the sun," don't rush out to buy lights just yet. Have you perfected the winter sun? How about the summer sun at noon? Can you shoot when it's beautiful morning light or in gloomy weather? That's the tip of the iceberg. Master the sun and then buy a light! 

I Don't Have a Friend to Help Me With Locations and Lighting Tests

Location: Use Google street view. You won't believe how many locations I've found through Google Street view and of course Satellite view.

Light Test: See the video, I have a hand trick.

In conclusion, no matter what your obstacles, learn to make them a positive instead of a setback. Where there's a will, there's a way. 

Walid Azami's picture

Walid Azami is a Photographer/Director and creative consultant from Los Angeles. He got his start working with Madonna + Co by contributing to her many projects. It was then he realized his place in the creative world & began teaching himself photography. He has since shot Kanye, Mariah Carey, Usher, Bernie Sanders, JLO, amongst others

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When you live in a northern climate, you use strobes or continuous light, or you don't shoot for 4-5 months, except maybe with window light.

It's just light. How you get it - the source - isn't overly relevant. How you see it, what you do with it is. I'm always prepared with strobes and reflectors, but if I walk into a room and there's killer natural light, I use that. All the preaching about "you should do this" or "you shouldn't do that" is pointless. You're a photographer... your job is to troubleshoot out the problems, add your artistic flare if it's a personal shoot, get the best version of the shot you can. Simple can be better, or not enough, depending on the shoot.

These are incredible! Great article, I'm not technical either so I feel you on all of this.

Awww thanks Gabrielle. I'm all about "feeling it" and don't measure much of anything. I used to feel...or should I say, I used to allow people to make me feel less about it. Then I realized there's a place for every type of photographer and each one is equally an artist.

Great stuff. The goosebumbs on the last image are amazing. You obviously targeted them.

Thanks Bill! Only a photographer would notice those small details but I'm happy you did. :) I appreciate the comment.

Great job man, the reflection of the sun light at min 8.20 are just amazing.
Yes it's possible tu use just sunlight, I use it anytime I can but sometimes people ask for other stuff. Anyway, nice video and article.

Thank you! I agree, people want other looks and that's also fine. I have so many people asking me if they could be a photographer without the equipment and access to agency models. So I decided to put my money/time where my mouth is and grab a model from an online site, only use the sun, don't even access a reflector or assistant, etc... I appreciate your words. If it helps someone feel completely capable by just using sunlight, then I feel great about it!

Very insightful and love the picture representations. More articles please!