Natural light is often the only light available to us when we are out shooting. But far from being an untameable beast, there are several ways that you can control it to achieve your desired photo.
Pay Attention To How It 'Looks'
A scene can look very different depending on what time of day you're looking at it. For this reason, when possible, it's worth visiting a location at various points a day or so before you want to take your photos as this will give you the opportunity to judge when it looks at its best. Of course, this isn't always possible but a little research on the internet may uncover some information on your chosen location you can use to your advantage.
Don't always think you have to shoot in the 'golden hours' either as you some subjects, such as close-up work for creating textures, look better when photographed at other points during the day. Having said that, early morning or late sun can transform a scene which appears flat and not very inspiring during the middle of the day.
By changing your shooting position or moving your subject (if possible) you can alter the direction the light falls. The relationship between the direction of light and your subject is important as it can change your image from a good shot to a great one. Think about light direction when setting up and decide if front, side or backlight is perfect for the scene. Side lighting often produces the best highlights and shadows which is key for giving shots a dimensional feel.
Reflectors come in many shapes, sizes and colours. Predominantly though they are white, silver or gold and each type of colour will reflect light slightly differently. White reflectors are a safe bet but if you want a brighter light, use a silver reflector, while gold ones produce a warmer light.
Why do you need to use a reflector? Well, it's a simple and reasonably inexpensive way to bounce light where it's needed. Try not to hold the reflector too low and remember that light will bounce back off a reflector at the same angle it hit it at. Also, the closer the reflector is to your subject, the stronger the light reflecting off it will be.
When working indoors with window light, curtains can be used as barn doors or flags to control the 'spill' of the light and a net or something similar can be used to diffuse and soften the light.
If you're working outdoors ask your subject to move into a shaded area where light will be more even and as a result, your portrait will be more flattering.
Even though we strive to get everything right in camera, often shots need a slight tweak during post production to balance the tonal range. We know this isn't about working with natural light when out in the field but it's about making the natural light balance correctly throughout the image.
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