6 Tips for Shooting Better Natural Light Portraits

Natural light is popular and has been divisive at times, but when used properly, it can lead to some beautiful images. Here are six tips to help you take better portraits without artificial light.

I have shot a lot of natural light portraits over the years, and in fact, I have shot entire series using only natural light. While I would always be suspicious of photographers who only shoot natural light, not every image needs flashgun or strobes to get the right look. Today, most of my shoots require me to setup studio lights, but I still love to take natural light portraits where possible.

Rather than reiterate one of Emily Teague's tips, I'll offer my own here, which is related to some in the video: use your surroundings. One of my favorite ways to use my surroundings in natural light photography is to find something to bounce the sun's light off of. This could be a white wall, a window, or a large piece of plastic; whatever it is, it can allow for more complex light and works brilliantly when combined with backlighting. Furthermore, you can use this with more interesting shapes, with obstructions between the reflector and the model, or with colors to make the image more interesting.

Emily Teague is a great photographer who many can learn from and this video is another example of that. Although Emily and I did bump into each other at an airport before the world started ending, I have no vested interest her, just an appreciation for the good work!

What's your best tip for shooting natural light portraits?

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6 Comments

Emily Teague's picture

Thank you so much for sharing!!! :)

Yan Pekar's picture

Just giving directions without speaking with a person and showing that you are interested in their personality is one of the worst ways of working with a person during a photoshoot. I am always amazed to see people holding a camera without any strap, as if they have several cameras at home and as if they do not care about breaking one:) It does not make you look professional and is giving a bad example to others.

Emily Teague's picture

Hi Yan- My model, Rachel, is a good friend of mine and understands that my priority for this shoot is helping the viewer understand what I'm trying to teach. If this was an actual photoshoot that interaction would be very different. As for my lack of camera strap- somehow in a decade of shooting I haven't dropped one yet ;)

Yan Pekar's picture

Hi Emily. Thank you for replying. Photography is a language of communication. It is obvious for you and your friend, Rachel, that the priority for this shoot was to help the viewer understand what you are teaching rather than to show how to communicate with a person during a shoot. However, it is not obvious for the viewer:) You and Rachel know that the objective was not to show how to communicate with a person. But again, this is not obvious for the viewer. As for using the camera without a strap - It is your camera after all and your choice whether you care about dropping it or not:) I feel that it does not show a good example to the viewers as some may think that it is cool to use the camera without a strap, until they drop it. I saw it many times when people put "coolness" over "safety". One thing is how you use it in your work; another thing is how you show the viewers how you use it. If you are a teacher/tutor, you would probably want your students to learn safe and efficient techniques. Another aspect of using the camera without a strap is that it puts a lot of strain on your hand and wrist, and if one has to shoot for several hours, a strap or a belt would make their life much easier and help to prevent health issues. As a teacher/tutor, you may consider thinking of what would be beneficial for the viewers / your students as they tend to copy/use what the tutors show them. Thank you.

Scott McDonald's picture

Easy does it on the "preachy" comments, Yan. Emily's video is about using natural light NOT about directing models or equipment handling. If she were your student being graded on her video assignment so be it, but focus your attention on the intention of the video...which was well done and on target. Feel free to make your own videos on models and safety best practices for the rest of us to learn from. Cheers!

Yan Pekar's picture

Hello (first of all), Scott. Thank you for your comment. Your comment is valid, and you are a true gentleman. However, the equipment handling and communication with a person in the video give a bad example to the potential students, and do not look professional. Why not show the best and safe techniques in the first place if it is already a part of the process the educator is trying to communicate to the viewers? Working with a model and holding a camera are a part of any photoshoot, hope you can't deny it:) Of course, you do not have to agree with me. I respect your opinion. Have a wonderful day.