Being as the definition of photography is literally “to draw with light” (in Latin), you better believe that controlling light is really important! There are lots of different directions we could study when talking about light in photography, but for now, we are just going to study one category: natural light.

Natural light is the easiest light for a beginner to master. Below are a few different conditions in which you might take pictures and why you might want to take pictures there. 

Full Sun (Hard Light)

Taking pictures when the sun blaring down on a subject can result in some pretty dramatic photos, but sometimes it can be a little harsh. Perhaps that is why taking pictures in full sun is considered hard light. To an untrained eye, full sun may at first be appealing and would be appropriate for some situations, especially when you are trying to capture some texture (more on that in a later post). However, when taking pictures of people, the harsh shadows on the face can create the “raccoon effect” around the eyes, not to mention the likelihood that your subject will squint.

Shady/Cloudy or Dawn/Dusk (Soft Light)

Cloudy weather is a highly desired time to take pictures for most photographers because the lighting will be softer on their subject. The light will look different based on the time of day (due to where the sun is) and there are a lot of factors that might impact the way that light is portrayed (including your white balance). Taking pictures at dawn or dusk is considered the “Golden Hour” for most photographers because the light can really be magnificent in photographs. The color tends to be warmer and due to the placement of the sun, certain details can often be captured that may not normally have been caught. (This link gives excellent examples of the Golden Hour:

Indoors by a window (Soft or Hard Light)

If you want to take pictures indoors, an excellent option is to find a window so that your subject can still be bathed in natural light, even without being in the great outdoors. If you place the subject correctly, you can get some excellent soft light with this technique. However, if the sun is streaming in, you could have a lot of hard light falling on your subject as well. When you take images next to your window, be sure to turn off your lights, that way your subject isn’t getting any artificial light mixed onto them.

A tip for directing light: An excellent tool for directing light is to use a reflector. This could be a large piece of white paper or a piece of foam core poster board covered in aluminum foil. Which one you choose will depend on how much light you desire to have in your shot. The reflector is used to reflect the light of the source (for natural lighting: the sun) onto the opposite side of the subject. This is how you can get an excellent even light on both sides of your subject.

Light examples

This Week’s Assignment:

Take 3 good pictures using different locations (or times) to demonstrate natural light. Take one shot for each of the locations listed above: full sun, cloudy/shade/dawn/dusk, and indoors by a window. If you feel proud of your pictures, choose your best shot and post it to Instagram with #DigitalArtTeacher. Take at least 10 photos for each subject. Go “draw with light”!

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