How To Create A Two-Light Setup Using 100% Natural Light

Yes, you read that correctly. A two-light setup (one key-light, one back-light) using nothing but natural light. No bounce, no reflectors, nothing. With just you, your subject, and a little knowledge, you can create stunning imagery with even more depth using your surroundings to your advantage. So are you ready? Let's go!

Whenever shooting with 100 percent natural light, it is paramount to pay attention to your surroundings. There are so many variables going to play when capturing your subject: the light, the angle of the light, direction of light, the color casts, etc. While these variables can sometimes appear as obstacles, they actually should be used to maximize your creativity. 

I found this "lighting setup" by complete accident a few years ago shooting with a friend of mine. Walking down the street I noticed a glare hitting me in the eyes and it dawned on me, I could use this ray of light to my advantage. With the sun facing my subject and the ray of light bouncing off the tall building's window from behind, we found ourselves a nice two-light setup to work with.

Ever since, it's something I always look for. In the diagram below I explain what I mean.

This method works best when the sun is lower and available (not cloudy or overcast)

As you can see above, the key light (the Sun) is hitting my subject, behind my subject is a window or a reflective surface that bounces that same light source to create a warm backlight. What this does is it creates depth as any backlight does which as another creative wrinkle to your image. It works best when the sun is prominent and lower in most lighting situations.

Have you ever used this method for your portraits? Share with us in the comments!

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Aleksandar Jaredic's picture

I hunt that kind of light all the time :)

John MacLean's picture

This is it, but in reverse. You're keying with the reflected light whereas Nick is using it for backlight.

michael buehrle's picture

or use a reflector.

Nick Pecori's picture

If you have an assistant present, yes. :)

John MacLean's picture

This was in an alley in Charleston. I was near a clearing for the soft key and the skylight from behind her acted like an overhead strip box. And I was getting a hard rim effect from a window reflection.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Catchlights added in post?

Nick Pecori's picture

Yes and no. When you add that kind of effect in post, you can create that flare spilling in-frame, but you may not be able to give that traditional rim-light rounding subject.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Are you sure this photo is created with direct sunlight without catchlight/reflections masterfully added in post processing?