NATURAL LIGHT vs ARTIFICIAL LIGHT…
WHICH IS BEST?
Today I feel like writing a post about a debate that goes on for years in the world of photography. This post is mostly for photography enthusiasts. I will be using simple language without technical terms so, please feel free to read it!
Light is everything, without the light without the sun there would be no life, there would be no photography. After all, the word photography itself is Greek in origin and comes from the union of two words phos,(φώς) which means light and the verb grapho (γράφω) which means to write. Learning how to see, manipulate and utilize light is the most critical skill set for a photographer to learn.
We have two types of light, natural light which is the one coming from the sun and artificial light which is the one coming from all the other light sources lamps, leds, fire, you name them. So, which type of light is best for photography, natural or artificial, the sun or lamps and flashes? One thing is for sure, there are a lot of supporters for each side. In this post I will try to analyze both perspectives and give you my honest opinion in the end.
The arguments in favor of natural light are many and this makes it attractive to many photographers especially in the beginning of their career. The main advantages are:
- We can find it Everywhere. During the day no matter where we are; in good or bad weather natural light is always there for us to play, explore and create with.
- It has no Cost. It is literally free, most of the times all you need to photograph is a camera and a lens. Yes, there are accessories, like diffusers and reflectors but they are relatively cheap to buy and easy to carry.
- It has an easier Learning Curve. The skills are easy to learn and put into practice. For example, you can read or watch a tutorial on how to photograph in shade in order to make the light softer and put it into practice five minutes later.
- All the Cameras are Built for it. Every new photographer that is learning the basics of their camera, such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO etc. is learning with natural light, thereby improving both their camera and lighting skills simultaneously.
While natural light has many advantages, it is not without its shortcomings. Let’s now see and analyze its disadvantages.
- Unpredictability. The weather plays a big role! Clouds come and go and this means that the light is changing constantly and this makes it really unpredictable.
- The Environment. Photographing outdoors means you are constantly at the mercy of the weather. Rain, snow, wind and extreme cold or hot temperatures, can all make for some uncomfortable experiences for both us and our clients! Finally, the attention of strangers when photographing outdoor is not always good.
- Night. When the sun sets and the night falls there is nothing left but darkness. The truth is though that natural light goes out with a bang! The images we can get before, during and after the sunset are amazing! The famous “golden hours” as we photographers call them which are followed by the “blue hours” where the sky gets a gorgeous dark blue color!
When the sun sets and the power or batteries go “on” another completely different world is born! Like natural light, artificial light has also its advantages. Let’s explore them!
- Convenience. With our flashes and our strobes we can photograph at any time or place, regardless if it is day or night, indoors or outdoors whatever the weather.
- Portability. I can get a few of my speed lights that are light weight and portable and go everywhere I like to photograph. They are also very easy and fast to setup.
- Versatility and Control. Speed lights and studios strobes give you endless possibilities! You can use one to mimic sunlight or use 5 or 6 in order to create, the light you want, the mood you want or the look you want. You can have complete control of the light!
Let’s now see and analyze the disadvantages of artificial lighting.
- Cost. This is exactly the opposite from natural light. Speed lights, studio strobes, soft boxes, umbrellas, snoots, beauty dishes, batteries etc. can cost a lot! Can you now understand why most photographers use natural light which is free and steer away from artificial lighting!
- Difficult Learning Curve. In order to be able to use artificial lighting correctly you need a lot of things to learn!! I mean a lot! It is easy to take a great photograph under the sun light even by mistake. With flashes and studio strobes this is impossible! On top of that you will need to spend countless hours of your time practicing! I personally loved that stage!
Whether we have natural or artificial lighting, these are not the only factors we should take into account when it comes to photography! There are other important factors of light that we should consider and they apply to both artificial and natural lighting. We will analyze them though on a future post.
Let’s say for example that the sun is shining all day long and that natural light is available everywhere! Here is where available light, quality of light and positioning of light come into the equation. Sunlight can be far from perfect when it is above your subjects head. The sun is a small light source and small light sources produce hard light. Hard light offers us rich shadows full of contrast. Would you like to see hard nasty shadows underneath your eyes, nose and chin on your portrait image? If this is the look you are going for, ok, if it’s not though it will be a disaster!
Imagine now that you are inside a reception hall; you can have many different light sources there. Tungsten lighting that looks yellowish to our eyes, led lighting that can be any color we wish blue, pink, green, red etc. and incandescent lighting which looks white to our eyes. In this case the available light is far from ideal for taking pictures! Both the photographer and camera will go crazy!
WHICH IS BETTER THEN?
Both of them are tools in our arsenal. They can both be used separately or we can mix them with amazing results! Let’s say we want to photograph a couple with the sunset and its amazing colors for back ground. If we use only the available natural lighting we will have great, rich sunset colors and a nice silhouette of our subjects.
If we now add a studio strobe to light our subjects we will get the best of both worlds!
There’s a lot of stigma attached whether or not to use a flash. Some feel that using flash is “cheating” or that they don’t like “the look of it». The other side of the argument is that “natural light photographers” are lazy, that they can’t be bothered to learn flash.
None of these arguments are valid. There are pluses and minuses to both worlds and it’s always best to master both. Only if you truly understand light, you’ll realize that the best light is the one that gives you the photograph you want.
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