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.