Natural Light Photographer – what does that mean?

Natural Light Photography, what does that even mean?  Lately I’ve heard a lot of photographers say “I’m a natural light photographer” and it got me thinking about what this term really means to me and how it’s applied to wedding photography.

Simply put, the word Photography itself means to record light.  Without light literally illuminating a scene or subject or even a sliver of a subject we wouldn’t be able to record it.  A great example of this would be the Moon.  When there is even the smallest sliver of the moon illuminated by the sun in the night sky we can see it.  But when it’s a New Moon and the earth’s shadow covers the Moon it completely disappears.  You still with me?  Good!

So, natural light photography is simply to record an image using the light that exists all around us.  This can be direct sunlight, reflected sunlight or ambient sunlight.  By using the light already naturally occurring around us we can create and sculpt images that lend a natural feel to what our eyes are used to seeing every day whether we are aware or not.

Natural light conditions are actually preferred by most photographers.  I don’t think it would be much of a stretch to say that every photographer learns to photograph with natural light first, right?  Unless you are strictly a studio photographer then you by default are a natural light photographer.

…BUT…  What happens when you don’t have pretty natural light or enough of it at all?  Then what?

I think there are two schools of thought on this.  One is you continue to use whatever light happens to be available and you capture the moment as it happens and hope it comes out.  Or two, you create and/or add light to help you.  I personally like to add light when my natural light and/or it’s quality is insufficient.

My honest and professional opinion is that a photographer should be able to adapt to any situation and still capture an image.  Flash is not a dirty word but an unbelievably important tool in enabling me to capture moments that I would otherwise miss.  It’s the difference between confidently knowing I am prepared for anything vs only being prepared to photograph beautifully so long as there is daylight around me.

As a wedding photographer we need to be ready for anything.  What if it rains and your ceremony get’s moved indoors?  What if your reception is in a ballroom and/or is only candle lit?  What if you want to have portraits taken at dusk but it’s too dark outside to only use natural light?  These are just a few of so many reasons why I have needed to learn how to take control of an unfavorable situation.  From a client perspective they are trusting us to be a professional and to capture their memories no matter what.  It’s important to remember while we have our style and vision at the end of the day we are at their service.

This post is not a science lesson but rather a need to explain why I feel capturing memories on one of your most important days is not merely a stylistic preference but my responsibility.  I pursue natural light as much as possible, I love it.  And I also love to add light when needed.  Adding light can be extremely creative, adding beauty and drama to an image.  It’s important to me to be well rounded, or so I try.

In short, I am a photographer of light.  Natural or artificial they are both tools and without them we would not have a photograph.  Therefore I believe it is important to understand both.

Pros of natural light are:

  • It’s everywhere and it’s free
  • doesn’t require a lot of extra gear
  • desirable & beautiful
  • simple

Pros of artificial light/flash are:

  • you can take it with you, portable
  • constancy
  • it add’s flexibility and creativity to your environment
  • allows you to stay in contro

Thank you for reading and hopefully this information may be found a little helpful to you.  🙂

Below are some examples of images captured with natural light and then artificial light/flash.


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