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Natural Light Photography: Working With Hard and Soft Light

Photographers of all niches, Amateur or professional, practice and work with the manipulation of light in some form. A deeper understanding of manipulating the light enables photographers to produce a higher quality image and enhance certain aspects of the person or object that is being photographed. The art of natural light photography utilizes these techniques, exploits them to their fullest potential, and all while attempting to refrain from using camera flash technology.

Natural Light Photograph

In its rawest form, natural light photography consists of using the natural light of the sun to create unique effects on certain aspects of the image that the photographer would like you to focus on, or not focus on. Good lighting is important but the art doesn’t end by merely brightening a picture. Skilled photographers can manipulate the light in ways that can change the light direction entirely to appear as though rays of light are beaming from the heavens or even cast frightening shadows over people and objects.

Below you’ll find two different lighting styles that can be taken from any camera and practiced at home, using only natural light. The lists and suggestions provided are merely a guideline to get you started and give you some ideas to practice with. Feel free to play around with the lighting variations for each shot and explore the different effects you can create.

Hard Light

have you ever looked outside on a sunny cloudless day? The brightness and clarity of the sky that you can see is called hard light. Hard light is perfect for capturing photographs crisp clear photographs With distinguishing outlines from shadows during most times of the day, though, the morning sunrise and evening sunset are often desired times due to the shadows produced by the fading sunlight. Some objects ideal for utilizing hard light would be:

  • Hot air balloons
  • Kites
  • Birds
  • Planes

Tip: Alternatively, a trick you could use for practicing would be to tie an object to a piece of fishing line and suspend the object in the air. Try Laying directly underneath the object and looking directly into the sky. You’d be amazed at how it brighten or shade different areas of the object.

Soft Light

Soft light, unlike hard light, a lighting with a larger gray zone. Imagine a dull, bleak day without even rain to change things up. It’s this lack of vibrancy and brightness in the lighting that helps build up soft light. Many photographers prefer the use of soft light when trying to achieve a more candid style of photography, though, it has also made for some terrific rustic styled photos. Some favored themes that are often seen taken with soft lighting are:

  • Depressing graveyards photos
  • Gloomy autumn weather
  • Rustic or antique objects like wagon wheels or old barrels
  • Unhealthy gardens

Tip: Soft light rarely shows pimples, scars, scabs, or any other small imperfections that you may want unnoticed.

As mentioned, the suggestions provided are just a few examples of natural light photography. There are countless different lighting styles to manipulate and enhance the features of your photographs. Listing them all can, and in fact has filled many books.

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