Natural Vs. Artificial Lighting: Photography Tips
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 10 min read


  1. What is natural light?
  2. What is artificial light?
  3. How to use natural light in photography
  4. How to use artificial light in photography
  5. Natural vs. Artificial Light: Photography Tips
  6. Why natural light matters
  7. Why artificial light matters
  8. Natural light photography examples
  9. Artificial light photography examples
  10. How to choose between natural and artificial light

There's a fascinating world to explore when it comes to natural and artificial lighting in photography. Understanding the pros and cons of each can truly elevate your photos to the next level. Whether you're a seasoned photographer or just starting out, this guide will clarify the key differences between natural and artificial light, how to use them effectively, and share some handy photography tips. Let's dive into the world of light!

What is natural light?

Simply put, natural light refers to the light that comes from the sun. It's the light we experience when we step outside during the day—it's all around us, constantly changing, and completely free of charge. However, it's not just a one-size-fits-all kind of light.

Depending on the time of day and weather conditions, natural light can assume a wide variety of forms. Let's take a look at a few examples:

  • Direct sunlight: This is the strong, bright light we get in the middle of a clear day. It's great for capturing vibrant colors and sharp details, but it can also create harsh shadows.
  • Golden hour: This is the brief period shortly after sunrise or before sunset when the light is softer and warmer, often producing a magical golden glow that's highly prized in photography.
  • Cloudy light: When it's overcast, the clouds act like a giant diffuser, spreading the sunlight evenly and reducing contrast. This results in softer shadows and less intense colors, which can be ideal for portraits and other types of photos where you want to avoid harsh contrasts.

Each type of natural light has its pros and cons, which we'll explore later in the "Natural vs. Artificial Light: Photography Tips" section. But one thing's for sure: understanding natural light and how to use it can greatly improve your photography skills.

What is artificial light?

While natural light comes from the sun, artificial light is man-made. It's the illumination we get from sources like lamps, bulbs, and camera flashes. Artificial light provides photographers with a great deal of control, allowing them to create specific lighting conditions regardless of the time of day or weather.

Artificial light can range from the very simple to the highly complex. Here are a few examples:

  • Tungsten light: Tungsten bulbs produce a warm, yellowish light. They're often used in indoor photography, where they can help create a cozy, homey atmosphere.
  • Fluorescent light: Fluorescent bulbs emit a cooler, bluish light. While this can sometimes result in unflattering skin tones, fluorescent light can be useful in certain situations, such as shooting products.
  • LED light: LEDs are a versatile lighting option. They can produce a wide range of colors and temperatures, making them a popular choice for photographers who need precise control over their lighting.
  • Flash: A camera flash produces a brief burst of bright light. It's often used to fill in shadows or illuminate subjects in low-light conditions. A flash can be built into your camera or attached as a separate unit.

As with natural light, artificial light comes with its own set of pros and cons. The key is understanding how to use it effectively to achieve the desired effect in your photos. Stay tuned for more tips on this in the "Natural vs. Artificial Light: Photography Tips" section.

How to use natural light in photography

Natural light is a valuable tool in a photographer's toolbox. It's free, available to everyone, and can add a beautiful, organic quality to your photos. But how do you make the most of it? Here are a few tips:

  • Understand the Golden Hours: The hours just after sunrise and just before sunset are known as the golden hours. This is when the sun is low in the sky, producing soft, warm light that's perfect for portraits and landscapes.
  • Watch the Weather: Overcast days can provide diffuse light that minimizes harsh shadows and highlights. This makes for ideal shooting conditions, especially for portraits.
  • Use Shadows: Shadows aren't always a bad thing. They can add depth, texture, and drama to a photo. Play around with the angle of the sun to create interesting shadow effects.
  • Reflect and Diffuse: Use reflectors to bounce light onto your subject or diffusers to soften harsh sunlight.

Remember, natural light is not something you control, but rather something you work with. It's about understanding the light's direction, quality, and color, and then positioning your subject accordingly. With practice, you'll start to see how different types of natural light can dramatically change the look and feel of your photos.

Now that you've got a handle on the basics, let's dive into some specific examples of natural light photography. These will show you what's possible when you embrace the power of the sun!

How to use artificial light in photography

Unlike natural light, artificial light gives you full control over every aspect of your lighting. You choose when, where, and how much light to use. But with great control comes great responsibility! Here's how you can use artificial light effectively:

  • Know Your Lights: There are many types of artificial lights, ranging from studio strobes to LED panels. Each has its own characteristics and uses, so it's important to know what you're working with.
  • Master the Three-Point Lighting: This classic lighting setup involves a key light (the main source), a fill light (which fills in the shadows), and a back light (which separates the subject from the background).
  • Color Temperature Matters: Not all lights are created equal. Some produce warm light, others cool. You can use color gels to modify the color of your lights and create different moods.
  • Don't Forget Modifiers: Light modifiers like umbrellas, softboxes, and grids can soften, direct, or shape your light, adding more creativity to your shots.

Artificial light can be a game-changer, especially when natural light is not available or ideal. It might seem complex at first, but with a bit of practice, you'll be amazed at the flexibility and creative possibilities it offers. So, why not give it a try?

Next, we'll compare the pros and cons of natural vs artificial lighting in photography. This will help you understand when to use each type of light to get the best results.

Natural vs. Artificial Light: Photography Tips

Now that we've explored both natural and artificial light, let's compare their pros and cons in photography. This will give you a clearer picture to decide which one to use and when.

Natural Light

Here are some pros and cons of natural light:

  • Pros: Natural light is free, abundant, and can produce beautiful, soft illumination. It's perfect for outdoor photography, portraits, and landscapes. The golden hour—just after sunrise and just before sunset—offers particularly flattering light.
  • Cons: The main downside of natural light is its unpredictability. Weather changes, time of day, and location can greatly affect the quality and direction of natural light. This lack of control can be challenging, especially for beginners.

Artificial Light

Now, let's look at the pros and cons of artificial light:

  • Pros: Artificial light gives you complete control over intensity, direction, color, and quality of light. It's ideal for studio work, product photography, and anytime you need precise control over your lighting.
  • Cons: Artificial light can be expensive and require a power source, which might limit its use in some locations. It also requires knowledge and experience to use effectively.

Understanding the pros and cons of natural vs artificial lighting in photography can help you make better decisions for your shoots. Remember, the best light is the one that helps you achieve your creative vision. So, don't be afraid to experiment with both!

Why Natural Light Matters

While we've explored the pros and cons of natural light, let's also take a moment to understand why natural light matters so much in photography. In essence, it's all about the mood and the authenticity it brings to your photos.

Firstly, natural light can create a sense of realism in your images. It adds depth and dimension, bringing out the true colors of the scene. Whether it's the soft diffused light on a cloudy day or the harsh shadows created by the midday sun, natural light can add a layer of complexity and intrigue to your photos that's hard to replicate with artificial sources.

Secondly, natural light can help you capture the mood of the moment. The warm glow of the sunset, the cool hues of dawn, or the stark brightness of noon—each has its unique emotional resonance. By using natural light effectively, you can tap into these emotions and make your photos more impactful.

Lastly, natural light is ever-changing and unpredictable. This might seem like a challenge, but it's also an opportunity to get creative with your photography. It pushes you to adapt, experiment, and find beauty in the unexpected. So, the next time you're out with your camera, take a moment to appreciate the natural light. You might be surprised by what you can achieve!

Why Artificial Light Matters

Now that we've talked about natural light, let's switch gears and discuss why artificial light holds its own importance in photography. If you're wondering about the pros and cons of natural vs artificial lighting in photography, this should clear up some things.

Firstly, artificial light provides you with control. Unlike natural light, which changes with the time of day and weather, artificial light can be manipulated to suit your needs. Want a strong, focused beam? A soft, diffused glow? With artificial light, you can achieve it all, no matter the time of day.

Secondly, artificial light can be a lifesaver in low-light conditions. Whether you're shooting indoors or the sun has set, artificial light can help you illuminate your subject and capture sharp, clear photos. This is particularly useful for event or night photography where natural light may not be sufficient.

Lastly, artificial light can help you create specific moods or effects in your photos. From dramatic shadows to bright, vibrant colors, the possibilities are endless when you're working with artificial light. So, don't shy away from experimenting with different lighting setups. You never know what amazing shots you might capture!

Natural Light Photography Examples

Let's take a look at some examples that really showcase the magic of natural light in photography. These will illustrate the pros and cons of natural vs artificial lighting in photography, and why sometimes, natural light is just the way to go.

Consider a sunrise or sunset. These golden hours offer a soft, warm light that gives any scene a mesmerizing glow. Landscape photographers often wait for these moments to capture the breathtaking beauty of nature. The soft shadows and warm tones can transform an ordinary scene into a masterpiece.

Another great example of natural light photography is a portrait taken under a shady tree on a sunny day. Natural light diffused through the leaves creates a soft and flattering light on the subject's face, reducing harsh shadows and highlighting their features beautifully.

Street photography is another area where natural light can shine. The play of light and shadow on buildings, the glint of sunlight off a car's window, or the glowing lights of a bustling cityscape at dusk — all these moments captured under natural light have a unique charm and realism.

In conclusion, natural light can offer a depth and quality to your photos that can be hard to replicate with artificial light. But remember, it's all about how you use the light, whether it's natural or artificial, that truly makes a photograph stand out.

Artificial Light Photography Examples

Now, let's flip the switch and look at some examples of artificial light in action. While natural light has its charm, artificial light gives you control and consistency, crucial when shooting in certain conditions.

Consider a fashion shoot in a studio. With artificial light, you can create a mood, add drama, or highlight specific elements of the design. You can control the intensity, direction, and color of the light, something not always possible with natural light. Professional portraits often use a three-point lighting setup — key light, fill light, and back light — to evenly illuminate the model and give depth to the photograph.

Product photography is another area where artificial light truly shines. A lightbox can provide diffused, even light that brings out the detail and color of the product, making it look appealing and professional.

And let's not forget about nighttime photography! From capturing the vibrant energy of a city skyline to the quiet calm of a lone street lamp, artificial light can create some stunning visuals. It can bring out the contrasts, highlight the subject, and add a sense of drama and mystery to the scene.

So, while natural light can create some captivating images, artificial light shouldn't be overlooked. It provides flexibility and control, opening a world of creative possibilities. The key is understanding the pros and cons of natural vs artificial lighting in photography and using them to your advantage.

How to Choose Between Natural and Artificial Light

So, you've got a handle on both natural and artificial light — but how do you choose between the two? That's a question many photographers, both beginners and pros, grapple with. Let's break down some factors to consider.

First, think about your subject. Are you shooting a landscape, a portrait, or a product? Natural lighting often complements outdoor settings and adds a soft glow to portraits. Artificial lighting, on the other hand, works wonders with product shots and can add a professional touch to studio portraits.

Next, consider the mood you want to convey. Are you aiming for a bright, airy feel or something more dramatic? Natural light typically gives a fresh, vibrant look. Artificial light can be manipulated to create a variety of moods — from dramatic shadows for a mysterious vibe to soft, diffused light for a cozy atmosphere.

Timing is also key. If you're shooting outdoors in the early morning or late afternoon, natural light can provide a magical quality to your photos. However, if you're shooting at night or in a dimly lit indoor space, artificial light will be your best friend.

Finally, don't forget about practicality. Artificial lighting equipment can be expensive and bulky, making it less ideal for on-the-go shoots. Natural light is free and doesn't require you to carry additional gear.

In the end, the choice between natural and artificial light depends on the needs of your specific shoot. There's no hard and fast rule — it's about using your knowledge of the pros and cons of natural vs artificial lighting in photography to make the best decision for your photo. Remember, photography is an art form, and light is one of your most powerful tools. Use it wisely, and you'll be amazed at the results.

If you're looking to further enhance your photography skills, especially in terms of lighting, check out the workshop 'Shadow Casting In Perspective Like A Pro' by Roberto Bernal. This workshop will provide you with valuable insights and techniques for mastering both natural and artificial lighting, allowing you to create stunning photographs with perfect lighting every time.