5 Types of Natural Light for Photography
It is easiest to photograph in the shade or while it is overcast outside because the sunlight is diffused. This produces a soft, even light that is very low contrast (meaning no harsh shadows). This type of light is particularly flattering on subjects with rougher skin and is very commonly used for portrait photography.
Ideal outdoor light
The best outdoor lighting is the type where direct sunlight isn’t around. A light overcast day is ideal: the big white sky acts like a large light box, which gives soft overall lighting that tends to flatter the subject.
Take a light reading off the palm of your hand–which reflects approximately the equivalent of 18 percent grey. When shooting portrait photography in the shade, open up around half a stop more and you’ll get nice open lighting on your subject.
Perfect portrait light: Bright overcast days offer the best light.
The sky provides even white light, working like a huge light box. Use a bounce flash or reflector to bounce a little light into the shadows on the lower part of the face, otherwise the forehead and hair might be too light.
Note use a simple, nondistracting background, and a large aperture to throw the background out of focus, drawing the eye to the subject.
Backlighting is when the sun is behind your subject. This results in the background usually being overexposed and your subject being underexposed. Like photographing in the shade or while it is overcast there are no harsh shadows on your subject. I find this type of lighting has a soft, natural feel to it.
Backlighting can also produce a rim light. This occurs when the light wraps around your subject and outlines their shape. Backlighting also looks amazing when it shines through hair or foliage.
3. Direct Light
Direct sunlight can be difficult to work with because of the dark shadows and loss of detail. However direct light can really enhance the vibrancy of an image and the high contrast can create a dramatic look. It is best to shoot when the sun is not too high in the sky. Also if you need to photograph at a fast shutter speed (ie. to capture movement) a lot of light is useful.
4. Side Light
When the sun is to the side of your subject there are shadows cast on the side furthest away from the sun. This provides high contrast and depth to an image. Detail and texture on the subject are also enhanced with this type of light (the opposite effect compared to direct light).
5. Golden Hour
Golden hour (or magic hour) takes place during the first hour after the sun rises or the hour before the sun sets. Many photographers love this type of light, myself included. Gorgeous, warm, soft light is cast at these times of day. The light is flattering from any direction, whether the sun is shining from the side, backlit or directly on your subject. The downsides are this light doesn’t last long so you have to shoot fast.