It’s an inevitable decision for just about every photographer at some point, particularly portrait photographers – should they use natural lighting, or artificial lighting? Of course, this is often a personal decision and one that photographers would choose for a variety of reasons depending on their circumstances. With that said, what exactly are the differences when shooting with the two different sources of lighting?
Natural lighting that offered by way of the sun and the moon, is a readily available, free and accessible source for photographers to work with. There is no requirement to purchase significant gear or equipment. The exception to this might be diffusers and reflectors, which are designed to distort or enhance natural lighting – these are considerably cheaper than actual sources of lighting like strobes, LEDs and the like. Using natural light is also a great starting point for photographers looking to gauge and comprehend the nuances associated with light, and the results can often create a strikingly creative or powerful shot.
While the above illustrates how accessible it is for photographers to use natural lighting, the one major challenge they face concerns the consistency of this light source. Depending on where you are, and the time you’re there, lighting can illustrate significant variance within your images by way of differences in contrast and colourisation. This is most commonly experienced during the ‘golden hours’, when the sun rises and sets producing a warm overtone to pictures. There is also some consideration required with regards to indoor shooting. A photographer can still use natural lighting indoors, however, the task is more dependent on the studio, preparation and equipment.
Meanwhile, using artificial light affords photographers a degree of flexibility, control and manipulation. They can shoot in a greater range of environmental conditions and locations. Effectively, they are no longer confined to a window with which they can go out and shoot. Options available to photographers span the full spectrum in terms of accessibility and ease of use, with something aimed at each segment of the market. The consistency of artificial light is also quite impressive at the upper end of the equipment scale, distinguishing it from the ebbs and flows of rapidly changing natural light.
However, with the greater control associated with artificial light, photographers are required to spend a significantly longer period of time preparing all their equipment and gear for the shoot. Whereas natural lighting requires little assistance in the way of preparation, artificial lighting requires photographers to set up a myriad of items and spend time adjusting each of them for optimal results. Once you consider that each item can play a role in the final look of the photo, you’re introducing another variable which has an ability to influence the outcome.
At the end of the day, each source serves its own purpose depending on the context of the shoot. Commercial type of applications are more suited to artificial lighting, while natural lighting is more suited to outdoor applications such as landscape and street photography. Irrespective of which field you operate in it’s important that you feel comfortable with each source – thereby making yourself more versatile as a professional photographer.