The Right Light

As a photographer I am always looking at other photographer’s work to inspire me and to learn what others are doing that is new and different in the photography world. Recently I have run across a lot of photographers that claim that they only work with “natural light” or say “I prefer the look of natural light and never use artificial lighting.” That is all well and good but what I think they mean is they don’t use studio lights or flashes. Let’s think about that for a moment.

If you only use natural light you only shoot outside, often use a tripod indoors, or shoot a lot of nature. If you shoot indoors and there is a light on you are using unnatural light; after all, anything coming from a lamp is manmade and therefore not ‘natural light’. If that works for the particular photographer that’s great!

Personally I use the right light to capture the image that I want to create. I often use flashes or other light modifiers to enhance the standard image that is created by the ambient light in a shot. Just as often I will use artificial light to create a mood or emphasize a part or all of an image. When the image I want to create calls for it I will use reflectors, bounce cards, and other things to modify the light that is already available.

The point here is that anyone who uses only one type of light may only be getting one type of result and in my case that is very limiting, and it stifles my ability to create the right image. I prefer to use whatever lighting tool is available to me to make an image say what I want it to say or convey a feeling that I need it to convey.

In the image below I have used only natural light and the image works well. The soft light in the shadows spreads an even light across Kat’s face, yet it is very bright just under the eaves of the fire escape and this allows for a great reflection in her eyes.

In this side by side image I used only a double sided reflector to modify the natural light. On the left side it appears that I did use a flash when in fact what I used was only the reflector to bounce the natural light coming from the window back onto the model’s face. On the right I used the same reflector to bounce the warm light of the setting sun back into the young woman’s face; this was to remove the harsh shadows that the bright sun was creating. In both cases the only light used was the sun and the only modifier was the 36” reflector, the left using the silver side to create a harsher light and the soft white side to create a softer fill light on the right. Is this still considered Natural Light?

To light this final image I used a combination of natural light and a single flash to gain the mood I wanted. This image is not Photoshopped other than a slight oversaturation of contrast and color. In fact if you look at the dancer you can see she has a sheen to her skin from having to jump over 40 times to get this image just right.

All of this means only one thing: that light is available to us to use and modify in any number of ways and, as a photographer, it is my job to use whatever tools I have at my disposal to make an image correctly. In my opinion if I ‘only shoot with’ anything I am limiting my opportunities to get the image you want. For me it isn’t a matter of what I use as long as I am using The Right Light.

Do I Need A Professional?

Many times I don’t hear the question “Do I need a professional?” but I do know that many clients and potential clients ask the question, at least of themselves. The answer is, to be honest, not always. But if you want the quality that either creates memories or helps you achieve your goals, yes you probably do. Making the decision to hire a pro is actually rather easy to answer. The real question is how do you find the ‘right’ photographer for your project.

The task can be daunting to say the least. With the popularity of digital cameras and their ease of use there are so many more photographers now than there ever has been. Some are good, some are great, some aren’t. So what makes one photographer better than another? Of course there is always the matter of style. This, like many other things, becomes a matter of taste. But certain skills are consistent in all good photographers whether they are an amateur or pro. The biggest is the understanding of light and composition. Even composition is a matter of taste to a point. So it comes down to light and the understanding of how it can work for, and against, you.


The study of light is critical in creating great images. The subtly of shadow and light can make or break an image in so many ways. An image needs to create a mood or emotion to be successful. The balance of positive and negative space is not just a matter of the balance of the image but more of a balance of the image and the message you are trying to send.


Each image can have its own message as well. The image included here tells a story but only enough of the story to make you want to know what happened: why is the woman in the image hiding, what caused her to feel so vulnerable? Technically this image could be criticized for too much negative space, being too dark, or any number of things, however the image does make the viewer wonder.


Being able to use light and dark, shadow and highlight; understanding how light and the lack of it can tell your story or send your message is what defines one photographer over any other. Being able to do that and understand your needs is what makes a professional.


What story can I tell for you today?