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  • Writer's pictureMichael Spatola

Seeing Light, Creating Mood (part 1: Natural Light)

Understanding light is one of the most important things a photographer must grasp to create an image. Notice I’m saying “create” and image. Anyone that can pick up a camera can capture an image. This does not make them a photographer. There’s a ton of so called “Natural Light” photographers on Instagram. I look through their photos and can immediately tell why they call themselves natural light photographers. Truly, they set the camera on automatic, go outside, or find a window and start shooting. That's pretty much how I started too. But, they haven’t a grasp of how to bend or control the light to sculpt shapes or flatter a subject, and neither did I. It took years of studying and practicing to master the control of light.

In the first part of this lighting post, I will show examples of well controlled natural light under different circumstances. The idea is to produce light that the human eye accepts as natural light.

All images in this post are black and white so you can see the light and shadow.

These first images were created with natural light only.

Literally sunlight streaming through a window. Direction of light shapes the face.

Afternoon sunlight through large window. The subject is far enough away that the light seems to softly wrap around her.

Afternoon sunlight. The subject is closer to the window. This creates darker shadows on the side farthest from the light.

The subject is backlit. It creates a beautiful silhouette and strong rim light.

Just window light. The distance the subject is to the window dictates how contrasty (darkness on the shadow side) it is.

This next set of images are created with natural light, but modified in some way to produce the desired mood or effect.

This is shot outside in the afternoon. The sunlight is filtered through the sheer day bed drape, giving a very soft light.

Light through venetian blinds, but there's a sheer curtain between the blinds and the subject, making the contrast softer.

Direct sunlight with the balcony door used to reflect light into the shadow side of the subject.

Sunlight with a large white reflector to the right, outside of camera frame to lightly fill the shadows.

Direct sunlight is bounced off a large white reflector. The reflector actually becomes the main source of light.

Sunlight through a large sheer for main light. A large white reflector is also used to bounce a little light into shadows.

Similar to above. Sunlight is bounced off a large white reflector. The reflector is the main light.

Afternoon sun squeezed through a 6 inch slit between 2 black panels produce a very dramatic, studio lighting look.

As you can see, once you know how to control natural light, you can make it do pretty much any desired effect with little to no equipment.

In part 2, I will cover how I created some of my favorite shots with artificial light and strobes, with a look that simulates natural or room lighting.

Is it time for you to have a session created? Drop me an email with your number and good time to call, and we'll set it up!

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