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4 natural light photography techniques you can use everyday - The Photography Express

4 natural light photography techniques you can use everyday

Photo Credit: Photosightfaces Added text by ThePhotographyExpress

Photo Credit: Photosightfaces Added text by ThePhotographyExpress

It is often challenging to make the best out of the available light in your photography in less ideal situation. You may be in shooting in the middle of the day when the sun is so bright that your photo just does not look interesting, or even if you are shooting at the “golden hour” the lighting situation changes every second so you are constantly switching your camera settings. In addition, you need to think about the exposure, aperture, ISO and shutter speed and this so called “natural light photography” thing is just not your cup of tea. So in order to make your life simpler, I’ve gathered 4 natural light photography techniques so you can create stunning natural light in your next photo shoot. Here you will find out exactly how to use natural light to your full advantage.

Just a heads up, even though the settings are listed for your most of the time it is often trial and error to figure out the best lighting for your photography. But I believe the list below will give you a jumpstart of your next natural light photography shoot.

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1) Backlit lighting

One of the most beautiful pictures you can do with natural light photography is to backlit your subject because even though you can create similar style in Lightroom (if you need tutorials you can read here) it doesn’t look as real. As a quick introduction, backlit lighting means to to position your subject with the sun directly behind them so you can see the sun flare around your subject. In order to achieve this kind of shot, you also need to position your subject in a “neutral position” where no light is falling on their face, then with your camera you need to switch to spots metering mode (if you need further understanding of camera mode please read here) to focus on your subject’s face to get the proper exposure.

The reason why we use spot metering is to tell the camera the subject’s face is the most important area of the picture. Your camera will then sample the exposure just in the middle section of your frame so if you focus on the subject’s face you can then make sure it won’t be underexposed.

You may now wonder does this setting make the photo a lot brighter than usual? The answer is yes so we should do a little exposure compensation. The last thing you need to do is to set the exposure compensation to -.3 or -.7 and use AV (A for Nikon) mode to take the shot than you’re done!

2) Silhouette photos

If you are unfamiliar with the term silhouette, it is a type of photography where the subject is totally blacked out but the scene behind the subject is properly exposed. This is a perfect situation to use if natural light is less than ideal but you still want to take the shot.

The way to achieve silhouette is quite simple. First, you focus at the background and not the subject when you take the picture. Secondly, treat this shot as a landscape photography so properly exposure the background. Thirdly, try not to capture take too much light around your subject because your camera will try to properly expose your subject. Which will end up messing up the overall exposure of your photograph.

Often times I need to take a few shots to get the feeling of what camera settings I should use but this technique is that not hard to do. The best reason of all is you don’t need any special camera equipment to do it!

3) Sunset

I’m sure you all heard about the golden hour. It only happen twice a day (just before sunrise and near sunset) and the duration is short. In many occasions, this is when you should take the most of your photos with the available natural light.

In order to achieve a great sunset photography, you must make sure to force your camera to make a darker shot because often times the camera’s exposure is a lot brighter than I want. This is the most important step to get both your subject and background properly exposed.

After doing the above follow the steps below: First, set your camera to P mode (Nikon called it programmed mode). Second, focus near the sunset but not directly to the sun itself, then press the shutter half way to get the camera settings. Third, remember that setting and switch to Manual mode. Fourth, setup the same settings that you remembered but for the aperture use a narrower exposure (for example if your camera’s reading was f8 set it as f11). You should now have a much better sunset background. Now to properly exposure your subject you will also need the below steps, please keep reading.

4) Use a Reflector

A reflector works like a flash but it uses natural light to bounce it off to wherever you aim. It is the most important piece of equipment for natural light photography. When using a reflector, hold it up high so light won’t bounce from underneath the subject’s face. The trick in using reflector is that you can bend the reflector or stand further or closer to your subject to adjust the power of the bounce light. For the sunset picture we mentioned above, you can let your subject or your assistance to hold the reflector to fill out the shaded areas of your subject. Since it’s sunset hour, you can only do this right at the beginning of the sunset when the sun is still bright. If the sun is almost down there will not be enough light to bounce off the reflector then you will need to use a little bit of flash to fill in the light. But this is another topic that I’ll be going through in later post.

I hope you enjoy this post and as always feel free to comment below and ask me any photography related questions. See you in the next post!

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About Gary

A passionate photographer with goals to fulfill your photography passion and motivate you to take pictures even when life is busy!


  1. Great tips on using natural light!

  2. Great tips! I learned something new!

  3. Great post Gary, I learned something new as well!

  4. Awesome tips! This is a great natural lighting resources!

  5. Great tips!

  6. Great resource for budding photographers!

  7. I’ve just started playing around with backlighting. I’ve read other tutorials that say to over expose because the extra light coming in causes the meter to underexpose the subject. Is this the case only when using evaluative metering vs spot metering? I’m confused!

    • Hi Jean thanks for stopping by my blog! Sorry for the late reply I was busy with my wedding for the last few weeks. When you talk about “over exposing because the extra light causes the meter to underexpose the subject” it is more towards evaluative metering. If you use spot metering and focus on the subject’s face, your camera will take the metering in the subject’s face area only, which will make your subject properly exposed but the background over exposed. So, when you use spot metering you don’t need to over expose again otherwise the background will be washed out completely. I hope this gives you a better idea. If you need further understanding please let me know!

  8. Hi Gary, which metering mode would you use before switching to P mode to aquire your settings when taking a sunset shot, kind regards, Duncan.

    • Hi Duncan, I use evaluative mode almost 90% of the time because even though it meter the whole scene it puts more emphasis on where I focused on. This is especially useful if you select one focus point before you take the shot. Hope this helps!

  9. Thanks for your Reply Gary, much appreciated, regards, Duncan.

  10. Thanks Gary, great tips, I want to try them. I’ve been doing all of these, but never actually thought about how. Maybe I can be taking better shots if I know the mechanics behind it. I’ve been posting them on my travel blog, at Visit50.com

    • Hi Todd, thanks you for stopping by my blog. I looked at your website and I am jealous that you get to travel around everywhere! At this point of time your blog said you are at Columbia. All the best with your photography journey there and I’d love to see you share some of the picture to the community!

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