Are You Using Being a Natural Light Photographer as an Excuse?

Do you call yourself a natural light photographer? Is it because you strictly prefer natural light, or are you afraid of strobes? This great video discusses why it's dangerous to rely totally on natural light.

Coming to you from Daniel Norton, this awesome video confronts the idea of calling yourself a natural light photographer and why that might be an excuse for avoiding learning artificial light. To me, the beautiful thing about artificial light is that besides the fact that you don't have to wait for the right light to arrive, you can mold and shape it in numerous ways to match whatever creative vision you have in mind. Without a doubt, it can certainly be daunting to learn artificial lighting, and you certainly do not want to try to learn it while you are working on paying shoots. Nonetheless, the advantages you will gain by knowing how to proficiently operate strobes and use modifiers will be huge. Even if you still prefer natural light, simply having the option to use strobes when the weather is bad or to augment natural light will make your life far, far easier. Check out the video above for Norton's full thoughts. 

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Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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Used properly you can light with artificial lights and not have a bright synthetic look- adjusting color temps/diffusion/light fall off etc. It takes knowledge, skill, time, and equipment- but it is totally doable.

And equipment can be had for as little as couple hundred for two good speedlights.If I can get away with just natural light I will but it's almost always better to have some light on the subject. Doesn't have to be much, so it does not look artificial but a bit goes a long way, even if it's only to get those catch lights.

The costs of being a "Natural Light" photographer or cinematographer are consistency, dependability, and stamina.

Rent a location, camera, bring in a couple of grips and a bit of talent, hair, makeup, props.

Now, pray to the weather gods for the light you needed - and race the sun to ensure continuity. Let the sun dictate your schedule (assuming it's out and how you need it). And you better get everything you need before it goes down.

I always say natural light photographers/cinematographers are part-time photographers/cinematographers. That's not a slight - it's a fact of light. If you take pictures, then you don't need to control the light. If you make pictures, it's a requirement.

I also love the very dramatic and artificial pop of overpowering the sun with strobes- in the right setting of course!! I shoot a lot of dancers- and let's face it- finding a dancer on the streets of NYC is NEVER natural - so why not go with that and create a surreal look!! i.e.

When I see a natural light photographer smartly using scrims, reflectors, and subtractive lighting, I can agree that he knows his stuff. Otherwise, it might be an excuse.

Are you using videos, instead of writing articles, as an excuse?

It's kind of annoying... and the other thing I noticed is, that product links are always B&H affiliate links...

yes I don't click them, only noticed it... ;)

Everytime I see an article from Alex Cooke, it's just a linked video with no "article".

Fstopper filler, can’t creat new content? Then link to someone that is.

True, but maybe he has to realize that "quantitiy"<>"quality". I don't mean the video content. Can't judge it, because I hardly never watch it. Only if it overlaps with youtubers I also follow.

Good light is good light- if you rely on natural light to provide it then you might not always find what you are looking for... An amateur might have the luxury of saying 'let's try another day when the light is better' - but a Pro cannot afford to do that. You have to create the images expected of you when they are needed - and that might mean using artificial light to create a natural light look (and yes- that is totally doable if you know how!) That's why TV/Movie productions use lighting- they have to shoot every working day. To quote Chuck Close - "Inspiration Is for Amateurs—The Rest of Us Just Show Up and Get to Work"- I would change that to "Natural Light is for amateurs- The Rest of Us Just Show Up and Create the Light we need to Work"

Well said Robert. I’m a photographer for a living and have to say ‘yes’ to whatever work comes to me, commercial, industrial, corporate & private portraiture, aerial - anything. We had to learn this trade and all its complexities, including the use of studio and location strobes, so those that haven’t can’t really call themselves photographers in my humble opinion.

First, when I read the title I
Half in the video I became "enlighted." :D

You should use flash so it looks like natural lighted if it's what you going for, but it will look nice!

This only matters if you are a commercial photographer. Sometimes our industry seems to be full of gate keepers.

Flip side: when people with pro spec cameras use flash to shoot landscape or fireworks.

Also: who the hell cares. Shoot whatever makes you happy.

Seriously... Couldn't agree more!

Also, why encourage your competition to use your tricks? When photographers talk about how everyone else is "doing it wrong" I often wonder if they're salty because their clients can't tell the difference.

I shoot strictly natural light because I like it and so do my clients. You can tell when artificial light is used in outdoor conditions and my models like the natural look, thank God :) To each its own I guess. Shoot how and what makes you happy.

Your clients like the natural light look- understood! But- your clients will appreciate you being able to shoot ANY time of ANY day and create that exact same look with strobes- but you have to know how to use the equipment to do that. Ultimately they want the look - they don't care how you achieve it.

I prefer the look of natural light. And, carrying what I need in a small backpack. Keeping it light and simple. Ok ok, I also carry a speedlight in there for just in case. :)

It's funny how some bring up how you can make artificial lighting look like natural lighting with all this equipment and setting up and knowledge. Why not just shoot it natural to begin with. lol

Because the natural light wasn't there at the time.

It's always there. It's just not always the same condition of light.

I don't understand how these things devolve into one vs the other. It's just light. Light is light. One is not inherently better than the other. Just because artificial light CAN look unnatural, doesn't mean that it always has to. People who claim to "not like the look of artificial light" are just saying they don't like the look of obviously artificial light. Trust me, there are a ton of photos lit with artificial light that you can't tell how they were lit.

I show up to an outdoor portrait session with all the tools needed to get it done; scrims, reflectors, AND strobes. If I don't need the strobes to get the shot, great. If I do, no big deal. I look at it as more a matter of wanting to have the tools and knowledge to be able to control the light as much as possible so that I'm not constricted by what the lighting conditions are. Photographers in certain genres who have a good knowledge of artificial lighting are absolutely going to have more options than natural light only photographers.

All the client cares about is looking good in the photos they commission you to take. Do clients really come in asking for natural light vs. strobe? As stated in the video, if the untrained eye can tell the difference, minus any other cues, isn't that a failure of sorts?

They probably ask for a "look." They may say, "I want it to look 'natural.'"

And then tell you they're only available after 8 at night.

I've never had a client ask for "natural light" or strobes. As far as the failure of noticeable artificial light, it may depend. There are some shots that are obviously artificially lit, but are still appealing. I think if it's something that the client is happy with, it's a success.

I think Daniel is addressing the majority of the "natural light" photographers who don't want to put a lot of effort into what they do. They point their camera at the subject and shoot for a bit and they're done. The sky is blown out to white and the subject is in deep shade. Here's the kicker; the NATURAL LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHER then brushes two stops of exposure onto the subject in post!! Really sloppily, and with a halo around the subject to boot. The subject is generally very flat looking, and probably still with a bit of raccoon eyes. They don't understand light and how it applies to the entire frame. It's usually not their fault either. People will still pay them because they don't know anything, and their friends just pat them on the back without even looking critically at the photos. (They need to get critiqued here, because you guys are savage!!)
A real natural light photographer, who takes the time to see the light and move the subject within it and maybe reflect some light around and turns in really great work, could probably use flash if they felt like it and still do great work but they don't need to. They understand light no matter where it's coming from.