Three Natural Light Hacks That Will Instantly Level up Your Photography Game

What happens when you fly half way across the world to shoot portraits of a model on an exotic beach, but then realize the light is not as soft or usable as you thought? In this video, learn how you can sculpt the natural light the way you want to create the most flattering results.

Light is the foundation of photography. It's all around us, but we must learn how to use it in every situation, that is the job of a photographer. When I was first starting out, I can remember only booking my shoots in the early mornings, or late evenings because of the warm and soft golden glow from those times. I will admit, I was genuinely scared of the sun at any other times of the day because I didn't know how to control it and use it to my advantage. Once I started to learn about how to use harsh natural light to create the look I wanted in my images, photography became a whole lot more fun. 

In this informative video, released by world renowned portrait photographer and film maker, Sawyer Hartman, he takes you to the exotic beaches of Hawaii, and teaches you how to sculpt and manipulate the natural light in the scene to create beautifully lit portraits. Hartman goes through three simple steps to shaping light. First, the reverse sun technique, which makes use of the sun as a backlight and introduces a reflector in the front to fill in the shadows. Next, he shows you that using a door or window frame will convert the light into an eight by eight foot soft box. Lastly, by positioning the model at an angle to the sun, it helps define their features and showcases the contours of their bodies. 

After watching this short video, one of the biggest things I took away was that you can make great images anywhere. You can create soft and studio-like light without being in a studio or lugging around expensive studio strobes. Personally, when I shoot  my travel portraits, I am constantly placing them in the middle of a door frame to get the most even soft light. If you want to learn how to get the most out of shooting with window light, you can read my article here.

If you want to see more videos on lighting and photography related tips and tricks, check back each week to Sawyer's Youtube channel. 

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17 Comments

Pawel Paoro Witkowski's picture

It's nice that Mr Sawyer took his time to record video and explain a bit about lightning. One thing I can tell about first advice that - if you do bounce light like that, do it from above the head, otherwise you're getting horror movies effect of the light coming from the bottom. Another note is that will also make it very difficult for eyes of our model leading to a not nice emotion. I would strongly advise you to try to put a reflector close to model eyes but don't reflect the light directly onto her face - this way you get nice catches in eyes but don't blind the model. Hope it helps someone, cheers!

Three things jump at me from this video.

1st and most important. DO NOT TOUCH the model, no metter how innocent. It can put a model at their unease.

2nd. A lot of people fall into this and hold the reflector below the models eyes. This (as seen in the video) gives an unpleasant uplight effect. Instead, hold the reflector above the models eyes and this gives a more pleasant look.

3rd. Do not touch the model...

Daniel Medley's picture

Absolutes are rarely absolute. The absolute of "do not touch the model" is one of those absolutes that is not absolute.

Though generally, "do not touch the model" is the way to go, it can depend. There are a couple of models that I work with that hate being told to move their hair this way or that, or drop the shirt off of the shoulder, wait, too far, can you move it up .... They'll just say, "come move it where you want it." A lot of it depends on the level of trust they have. That level of trust generally comes by simply not being a creep.

Lennart Böwering's picture

Absolutely agree.
I'm a dance instructor for latin and ballroom and have a lot of dancers in front of the lens. Getting a perfect pose is often alternating between giving a pose to copy and then tweaking fine details. Dancers will almost always tell you to just "put" them into the right pose (given you know what you're doing). They also have a very different approach to body contact.

Anyhow there is one absolute for me: I always ask first before touching a model (male or female) by giving a neutral choice(!).
I won't ask "Is it ok, if I touch you?" which the model might agree to out of habit or because of their position, but will rather let them choose: e.g. "You wanna fix your hair really quick or shall I do it?".
Giving the model the choice a few times will show you pretty quickly how they feel about it.

All in all it is indeed a combination of personal preference and trust between model and photographer. We have to develop sensitivity for the topic in order to find the best connection for a good photoshoot and photo.

Completely agree with you, Daniel.

Chad Andreo's picture

I think the model is his GF/Fiancé.

I think you may be right, but in an instructional video it does not give the correct message.

Tom Jensen's picture

On what planet are these considered "hacks"?? Why does everything need to be called a "hack" these days.
Oh, and make sure the model's necklace hasp is behind her neck, not visible. Clean your frame, guy!!

Michael Comeau's picture

"World renowned portrait photographer"

Come on.

Scott Hussey's picture

Using a reflector is now considered "a hack."

There was at least one "hack" in that video...

The word Hack has made me refuse to watch the video. I can tell what he did just looking at the few pics. And from what I see...well...I was doing all that 30 years ago. Not that these aren't good tips for a beginner. They work. But I also agree with the comments I am seeing about reflector angles. Touching Models...well...fixing hair and clothes is normal...positioning a model by hand...hmmm...not really.

Lars Daniel Terkelsen's picture

"...so without further ado, let's..... "
Am I the only one thinking that this line is getting old very fast? And it becomes particularly annoying, when you serve it after several minutes of insignificant babble.

Kalpesh Modi's picture

Pointless article. Search Dani Diamond's article here on Fstoppers on how to shoot with natural light and save yourself and readers time and grief.

Daniel Medley's picture

One thing missing: Scrim.

I thought the same as others about touching the model but then I thought that perhaps he is in a relationship with this Lady but otherwise it's a definite no no. As for the video, it was well shot, the tips were useful and I liked his enthusiasm. I would think any experienced photographer would know how to use a reflector and to move it around to get the best effect. Nothing new here but those visiting this site are at varying skill levels.

yanpekar's picture

I came here to watch a video about “3 natural light hacks…”. Please get to the point. Talking about your upcoming workshop after saying “so without further ado, let’s…” is against expectations you have set and wastes people time.
Using a reflector is not a hack. It is a practical skill a working photographer should have. The way the reflector was used in the video may result in temporarily blinding your model.
The way you show how you work with a model may result in some people creating bad habits. Yes, it looks like fun but touching a model without asking permission is a bad business ethics, especially when you work in front of a Client and as a part of a production team.

Please stop using the word "hack" for things that are common, every day things that knowledgeable photographers do. A hack would be a clever solution for a tricky problem.