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An Introduction to Natural Light Portraiture

When Nicéphore Niépce invented the first permanent photographic process in the early 19th century, he named it heliographie—or, sun-writing. Nearly two hundred years later, the sun continues to provide a quality light source to photographers at a fraction of the cost of its competitors. Like any creative decision, using natural light for portraits has its pros and cons. Its popularity stems from the facts that it is free, accessible, and (mostly) predictable. Nevertheless, and contrary to the opinion of certain lighting snobs, it is just as easy to take a terrible photograph using natural light as it is with any other source. Understanding when, where, and how to use natural light is crucial to maximizing its benefits. Follow the tips below to get the most out of your natural light portraits.

Placing diffusion on a boompole makes it much easier to position outdoors.

Time of Day

The sun’s position in the sky changes throughout the day. This matters for photographers because the character of the light it provides and the shadows that it creates change with its position relative to your subject. Unobstructed, midday sun is the most challenging light to navigate because it creates harsh, often unflattering shadows on subjects. Even worse, it will cause even the most stoic model to squint, ruining otherwise good shots. Luckily, direct sun can be tamed via diffusion.

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