Natural Light in Photography: Pros, Cons & Tips
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 5 min read


  1. What is natural light in photography?
  2. Pros of using natural light
  3. Cons of using natural light
  4. How to use natural light effectively
  5. Tips for working with natural light

Lighting plays a pivotal role in photography. It can make or break your photos, and one of the most accessible light sources is natural light. With this in mind, let's delve into the world of natural light photography and explore the pros and cons of using natural light in photography, along with some handy tips to help you make the most of this resource.

What is natural light in photography?

Natural light in photography refers to the light produced by the sun, as opposed to artificial light sources like studio lights or flash. The use of natural light can give your photos a more organic, raw, and authentic feel. But understanding natural light and how to use it effectively requires some knowledge and practice. Let's explore the nuances of natural light in more detail.

Types of Natural Light

In the world of photography, you'll come across various types of natural light. Here's a quick rundown:

  • Direct light: This is sunlight that hits the subject directly, usually resulting in strong contrasts and bright highlights.
  • Diffused light: This light is softened, often by clouds or fog, which reduces shadows and harsh contrasts.
  • Golden hour light: This refers to the magical light during the first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset. It gives a warm, golden glow to your photos.

Factors Affecting Natural Light

Natural light isn't constant. It changes throughout the day and is influenced by a variety of factors:

  1. Time of day: The sun's position in the sky impacts the quality and direction of light. Early morning and late afternoon light is often softer and more flattering.
  2. Weather conditions: Cloudy days provide diffused light, while sunny days offer more intense, direct light.
  3. Season: The angle and intensity of sunlight vary with the seasons, affecting the tone and mood of your photos.

Now that we've got a good grasp of what natural light is in photography, we can move on to discuss the pros and cons of using natural light in photography. This will help you understand when and how to use it to its full potential.

Pros of using natural light

Natural light, with its unique qualities, can bring a lot to the table when it comes to photography. Let's take a look at some of the key benefits or 'pros' of using natural light in photography.

Accessibility and Affordability

One of the biggest advantages of natural light is that it's freely available. You don't need to invest in expensive lighting equipment or accessories. Wherever you are, whatever time of day, there's likely some form of natural light you can work with.


Natural light can lend a sense of authenticity to your images. It often results in more realistic and relatable photos that can resonate with viewers. Think of a warm sunset or the soft glow on a cloudy day—these are moods that artificial light can struggle to replicate.


Natural light is ever-changing. The shifting positions of the sun throughout the day, changing weather patterns, and the different tones from season to season provide a variety of lighting conditions. This can inspire creativity and add unique elements to your photos.

While the benefits of using natural light in photography are substantial, it's important to acknowledge that there are also challenges. This brings us to the cons of using natural light in photography.

Cons of using natural light

While natural light can be a photographer's best friend, it also presents its fair share of challenges. Here are some of the potential drawbacks or 'cons' of using natural light in photography.


Mother Nature is famous for her unpredictability. One second, you have perfect lighting, and the next, a cloud obscures the sun or the weather changes drastically. This lack of control can potentially disrupt your photography plans.

Time Constraints

Natural light is tied to the time of day and the season. Golden Hour—the time shortly after sunrise or before sunset—provides gorgeous light, but it's fleeting. This can put photographers under pressure to capture their shots within a limited time frame.

Difficulty in Manipulation

Unlike artificial light, which you can modify to your heart's content, natural light is trickier to manipulate. This means you have to adapt to the light, rather than the other way around, which can sometimes limit your creative expression.

Having explored the pros and cons of using natural light in photography, let's now turn our attention to how you can use this resource more effectively.

How to use natural light effectively

While natural light can sometimes feel like a wild horse, with the right techniques, you can harness its power to create stunning photographs. Here are some tried-and-true methods to use natural light effectively in your photography.

Understand the Light

The first step in mastering natural light is to understand its different qualities. For example, harsh midday light can create strong contrasts and dramatic shadows, while soft morning or evening light can give your photos a warm, gentle glow. Once you understand these qualities, you can decide which type of light best suits your photography style and subject matter.

Use Shadows to Your Advantage

Shadows are not always the enemy; sometimes, they can add depth and interest to your images. Use them to highlight certain elements in your frame or to create silhouettes for an artistic touch. Remember, photography is all about light and shadow, so don't shy away from using both.

Utilize Reflectors and Diffusers

Tools like reflectors and diffusers can help you manipulate natural light. Reflectors can bounce light onto your subject, filling in shadows, while diffusers can soften harsh light, making it more flattering for portraits. These tools are relatively inexpensive and can be a game-changer in your natural light photography.

Now that you've got a grasp on how to use natural light effectively, let's dive into some specific tips for working with natural light in photography.

Tips for working with natural light

Working with natural light can be unpredictable, but with a few tips and tricks, you can turn this unpredictability into an asset. Let's explore some practical ways to make the most of natural light in your photographs.

Plan Around the Golden Hours

The golden hours — the first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset — offer some of the most beautiful light you'll find. The sun is low in the sky, providing a soft, warm, diffused light that's perfect for all types of photography. So, get up early or stay out late to take advantage of these magical times.

Watch the Weather

Cloudy days might not seem ideal for photography, but they can actually provide a soft diffused light that's great for portraits. On the other hand, a clear sunny day can produce vibrant colors and dramatic shadows. The key is to understand how different weather conditions affect light and to use this to your advantage.

Experiment with Backlighting

Backlighting, or shooting your subject with the light source behind them, can create a beautiful halo effect and make your subject stand out against the background. Although it can be tricky to get right, with a bit of practice you'll add another tool to your natural light photography toolkit.

Armed with these tips and a bit of practice, you'll be well on your way to mastering the art of using natural light in photography. Remember, the goal is not to control the light, but to understand it and use it to your advantage.

If you enjoyed learning about natural light in photography and want to expand your knowledge on the subject, check out the workshop 'Shadow Casting In Perspective Like A Pro' by Roberto Bernal. This workshop will teach you how to master the art of shadow casting and provide you with a deeper understanding of how light and shadows can enhance your photography skills.