Day 2: The Importance of Natural Lighting

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been told “natural lighting is SO important to good photography!"

and that’s it.

No tips.
No tricks.
No reasons why.

Nothing. 

 
 

That’s what I thought

So today we’re going to dive deep into the details of lighting. Why you need it, what you need to know about it and how to use it to your advantage as a busy blogger. 


Not All Light Is Created Equal

It may be obvious that there's a difference between the lights inside a building and the natural sunlight provided by the sun, but there's different aspects of light that make a huge difference. Let's look at the three pictures below as an example.

Indoor Overhead Lighting

WORST

The lighting inside this room was great, but it was still indoor fluorescent lighting. Since this photo under overhead lighting, you can see there's a bright "hot spot" from the bright light shining directly down onto the surface below.

Lighting-OutdoorDirect-Tacos-01

Outdoor Direct Natural Lighting

BETTER

A little bit better, but since this photo was taken in outdoors in direct light, the area in the top left is overexposed (too bright).

Lighting-Natural-Tacos-01

Indoor diffused Natural Lighting

BEST

This is what we're going for. This photo was taken a few feet from a window on a bright day, so there's a nice amount of semi-diffused light flowing over the dish. Notice how the shadows cast across the surface of the plate show texture, and the colors seem more true to life.


LIGHT CHANGES THROUGHOUT THE DAY

Have you ever really paid attention to how sunlight changes throughout the day?

It's bright and white, glaring through the blinds & bouncing off the hardwood floor in the morning to greet you.
It's warm and golden in the afternoon, casting long shadows on the ground and along the walls of your living room as you arrive home.
It's cool and grey in the evening, wrapping your world in a blanket of blue as the sun finally sets.


To start paying attention to these details, let's learn some new vocabulary


SEVEN ASPECTS OF LIGHT

Think of these as your building blocks of light. Each of these aspects goes into creating your unique lighting situation.

Exposure/Brightness: "Exposure" has a more technically definition in the photography world, but we're going to simply compare it to "brightness". When we talk about the brightness, we're talking about how much light is in your image.

Quality: How good is your lighting? Is it shining directly onto your subject (like the outdoor taco scene), or more diffused (like the third photo)?

Color: The color of your lighting will make a huge difference in the overall mood of your image. We'll go deeper into this in the next section!

Direction: From which direction is your light coming from? This is determined by the position of the sun in the sky, and where you decide to set up your scene.

Shadows: Shadows are the darkest part of your image. Try not to think in terms of color, think in terms of light.

Highlights: Highlights are the lightest part of your image. Again, try to think in terms of light instead of color.

Contrast: Contrast is the amount of difference between the shadows and highlights in your image.


LIGHTING OBSERVATION EXERCISE

Over the next few days, we're going to start observing the light that fills our space & describing it using the terms above. I've created a worksheet for you to take notes on throughout your day.

You can see below that I've already completed this exercise in my space. Notice how I've actually written out descriptions of each of the aspects. Try writing your notes out in actual sentences. This will force you to think through each aspect more deeply and actually have to come up with the correct words to describe the situation.


 

8:30AM

Location: Kitchen

  • Brightness: super bright!
  • Quality: direct & very focused (shining directly in the window)
  • Color: super bright white
  • Direction: the sun is hanging out in the middle of my kitchen window, but a little towards the right.
  • Shadows: the darkest part of this image is the top inside of the bowl, since it's receiving no direct sunlight (shaded by the sides of the bowl), and very little reflective light.
  • Highlights: the brightest parts of this image are the top of the granola and the bright spots of the wooden surface because they are all receiving direct sunlight.
  • Contrast: there is a lot of contrast in this photo due to the darkness of the bowl compared to the highlights caused by direct sunlight.

 


 

12:30PM

LOCATION: PATIO

  • Brightness: bright but indirect
  • Quality: indirect/diffused (taken under the cover of my patio on a bright sunny day)
  • Color: bright & closer to white
  • Direction: while the sun is directly overhead, this photo was taken against the wall of my covered patio, so the actual source of light here is the ambient light bouncing off of the ground. Since it was taken against a wall, you can see there is more light in the top half of the image than the bottom half.
  • Shadows: the darkest part of this image is the shadowy area between the two crystals and bowl because this area is shaded by the other objects, and it's position in the middle limits the amount of light reaching that area from the sides.
  • Highlights: the brightest parts of this image are towards the top of the image since it was taken against a wall (bottom) & most of the ambient light is coming from the top. The reflective quality of the crystals and glass glitter around the edge of the bowl catch the light and create more highlights.
  • Contrast: there is not much contrast in the lighting because of the use of bright, ambient light and a lack of strong shadows/highlights.

 

3:30PM

LOCATION: LIVING ROOM

Lighting-Natural-EarlyAfternoon
  • Brightness: pretty shady with spots of very bright light
  • Quality: direct but diffused through the blinds
  • Color: the sun is still shining bright and white, but starting to change to a more yellowish tone as the day goes on
  • Direction: the sun is starting to hang a little lower in the sky, and is coming into the frame from the top left corner.
  • Shadows: the darkest part of this image would be the very bottom right corner (shaded by pan & farthest area from light source)
  • Highlights: the brightest parts of this image are the spots of direct sunlight inside the bowl, and on the edges of the dough in the bottom right part of the frame.
  • Contrast: This image has a good deal of contrast because of the deep shadows and the spots of direct sunlight. 

 

5:00PM

LOCATION: LIVING ROOM

  • Brightness: full range
  • Quality: indirect/diffused but bright at the top
  • Direction: the sun is about to set, and is actually reflecting off of my car windshield outside into my window. 
  • Color: since the light is reflecting off my windshield onto a white surface, the light is very white and bright
  • Shadows: the darkest part of this image is the bottom of the frame (farthest away from light source)
  • Highlights: the lightest part of this image is at the top of the frame (closest to the light source)
  • Contrast: there's a good level of contrast in this image due to the full range of light to dark

NOW IT'S YOUR TURN!