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  • Sarah Clarke

Natural light vs studio

How to capture stunning images using both studio and natural light

Do you know the difference between natural and studio light? I didn't understand it either - until I started to experiment and understand what they are capable of.

“Don't limit yourself to only using natural light OR studio light, you can choose what to use depending on the feel you want to portray.”

Natural Light

When shooting outside you have to hunt for perfect "pockets" of light. I like to shoot either earlier in the morning (Any time before 11:30) or later in the afternoon (after 4:00 - until sunset). If you have to shoot between 12-2 on very sunny days, you need to shoot under a canopy of trees or you will be left with very harsh shadows.

With the image I captured below, I suggest standing in open sky for the photographer (ie don't stand in the shaded areas yourself) and have the subject under the shelter of trees or even the branches of a bush. Make sure there are no dark shadows or sun spots on your subject - there is only so much post production can fix!

For indoor natural light always use the largest doorway or window available. The right light makes a world of difference and can make or break an image.

You can add a sheer curtain over the window to give a nice soft look, or you can have the subject lit from the side. I have also used reflectors, bristle boards, or material to remove or even add shadow. There are so many things you can do with both light and subject, but you need to understand what kind of feel you are trying to portray.

While natural light is beautiful and airy, I really prefer using studio lights for more glamorous or artistic images.

The image below was shot with three studio lights, the main light with a snoot to add a little more a dramatic feel. I shot this image with the plan being to turn it into black and white - so I planned the textures and the dramatic light a bit more carefully.

I also love using one light on a large softbox, which gives a softer feel similar to a large window. As you can see below, I still have full control of how much light is on my subject vs the background. This image was intended to be soft and moody at the same time, so using the softbox worked out well.

Whatever you prefer don't think you are limited to one over the other! Each photo is unique and requires different lighting technique, so think it through before you shoot.

If you would like to see some examples I have many examples of using both studio and natural lighting on my website:

I hope this blog post inspires and encourages you to get out there and try something new!

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