Assignment #15: Natural Light

As student photographers, especially right now without access to the lighting studio at school, we are more dependent than ever on natural light. This week in your assignments we will explore different types of natural light. Having a clear understanding of natural light photography, allows you to predict and plan for optimal natural lighting conditions during different times of day and night and get the most out of your images.

A photographer that comes to mind who makes excellent use of natural light is Andrea Lohmann ( I will be using much of Andrea’s images to illustrate the different types of natural light. To see more of Andrea’s work, visit her website or follow her on Instagram. Photo by Andrea Lohmann

Your goal this week is to create strong images using natural light. Read each definition below and look at the samples before you take pictures.

Post your best image to Flickr and name it “Natural Light. In the description include the type of light (front, side, diffused, harsh, etc.)  Due: Thursday 5/21 (20 points)

Natural light is generally classified by the direction, intensity and quality of the light source.


  • Front Light
  • Side Light
  • Top Light
  • Back Light



In general, you want the light to fall on the subject. One way to achieve this is with a front light. To get a front light on the subject outside, the sun should be behind the photographer. 




When the light falls on the side of the subject, it creates side light. It creates a shadow of the subject on the opposite side of the light source. The length of the shadow depends on the position of the Sun.




When light is directly above the subject, then it is referred to as top light. Most nature photographers avoid top light as it can be harsh and uninteresting. Portrait photographer’s avoid natural top light as well as it will cast dark shadows under the subject’s eyes.




When the light source is behind the subject, then the subject is said to be backlit. You can utilize a backlight in two ways. You can capture a silhouette image or you can go for a rim lighting effect by adjusting your angle of photography.



The intensity of light is a measure of its harshness or brightness and determines how much light is present in a scene. Intensity is sometimes referred to as “quantity of light.”

You can estimate how intense light is based on the balance between shadows (the darker areas of your image) and highlights (the lighter areas of your image). This distinction between highlights and shadows is known as contrast.


Quality encompasses the other characteristics and can either be classified as hard/direct or soft/diffused.

The smaller the light source is compared to a subject, the harder the quality, and as the light spreads and becomes bigger, the quality also becomes softer.

  1. Diffused Light
  2. Harsh Light
  3. Dramatic Light
  4. Reflected Light
  5. Dappled Light
  6. Golden Light
  7. Twilight
  8. MoonLight

Diffused light is one of the best light environments for portraits. Clouds and overhangs act as natural diffusers, eliminating shadows and defusing the harsh light of the Sun.

Harsh natural light may come from the sun on a cloudless day around noon. While it can create unwanted shadows in the scene, if used correctly it can also offer many possibilities for creating striking images. You can create interesting images by emphasizing the patterns, shapes and details in the shadows. This works especially well with Black and White images.

In general I try to avoid mid-day, harsh light, when the sun is directly above me when I’m shooting landscapes. It brings lots of heat haze in the picture, thereby reducing the image quality.

Dramatic natural light is a gift from some of the worst weather conditions. When there is a storm, thunder or thick fog there will be a total change in the atmosphere. It is this change which creates the dramatic light.

If you don’t want to be outside in stormy weather, you can head out once the storm is over to utilize this light to create dramatic images. 


Reflected light is the result of the light source bouncing off of an object, creating a softer color cast or glow.


Dappled light is the result of sunlight that has been filtered through tree leaves and projected on a nearby surface. It casts interesting shadows on your subject and could make your image more compelling. It can also create awkward patterns on the face, so use at your discretion. DappledLight

Golden light as you learned last week last when photographing your golden hour photos, comes the first hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset. The extraordinary quality light and color during this time is the reason it’s so beloved by so many photographers. And it is one of the best lighting scenarios for silhouettes.


Twilight is available a half an hour before sunrise and a half an hour after the sun goes down. You need to be really fast with your camera to capture images in Twilight. Pinks and the Blues are the two most prominent colors during this time.


Moonlight is also a wonderful, natural light source. Because the intensity of the light is not as strong as the sun, your best results come when you use a tripod and a longer exposure time — especially if the moon is your source as well as your subject. 

Photo by Larkin Wilson





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s