Different Types of Natural Light in Photography

Much like painting, light plays a huge part in a great photo – and it’s not just because it’s the sole reason why photography is even possible. Light can balance, provide contrast, and even add or change the atmosphere of the subject you’re using for your photo.

But what exactly is natural light?

Natural light is simply ambient light, which is the light that’s present in your environment. By using natural light, you don’t need to invest in all kinds of equipment and reflectors, and with the right conditions throughout the day, you can maximize it to its full potential in pretty much any photography genre. 

Characteristics of Natural Light

Ambient light has a few things to it that you need to keep in mind other than just being light:

  • Color TemperatureThis refers to the different shades of color you get form different light sources, or in our case, since we’re using the sun as natural light, the same source at different times of the day (i.e. sunrise, midday, sunset, twilight, etc.).
  • Color Intensity – How harsh or bright is the light, and how much of it is in your picture? Color intensity is used to describe as the “quantity” of light, and you can estimate this based on the balance between your darker and lighter areas.
  • Direction – This refers to where your light is coming from. With natural light, you can get different

There are also different types of ambient light you need to keep in mind, such as the following:

  • Hard – Harsh light comes directly from the sun on a clear day, either at noon or a few hours before sunset.
  • Soft – Soft light comes from the sun on an overcast day or at sunset.
  • Reflected – This is what happens when the light source is bounced off an object, which results in a softer glow.
  • Window – A major source of lighting if you plan on shooting indoors
  • Dappled – Sunlight filtered from things like tree leaves and projected onto nearby surfaces results in dappled light.
  • Twilight – A soft, low-contrast light that you can find at sunset, and the shift from day to night can result in wonderful backdrops for your images.

Tips for Using Ambient Light

Now that you know the different types and characteristics of ambient light, here are a few things you need to keep in mind before taking pictures:

  • Keep in mind that bad light does not exist. It’s really all about whether the ambient light works for your picture or not. 
  • Use shade to balance harshness. Just by finding the right spot under a tree or a tent, you can take advantage of the contrast between light and shadow to illuminate your subject. 
  • Look for your best light. You need to be very specific about the mood and theme you want in your pictures since sunlight changes a lot throughout the day.