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Written by Teagan Cunniffe

'How to photograph in Natural Light'


Filtering down through clouds or cascading directly from the sun, natural light can be harsh and it can be beautiful. Depending on how you use it, both characteristics can work in your favour as a photographer. This type of light is less predictable than controlled flash or artificial light, but with it, you can create evocative, atmospheric imagery. Sometimes the best light is all around us, just waiting to be seen.


Image by Tenzin Tshewang

Image by Tenzin Tshewang


"Here in Thailand, when I first explored to see other photographers, everyone else was always carrying one or two flashes. I wanted to my work to be different, and most of earlier work consisted of landscapes and night photography where I always focused on mastering natural light."

- Tenzin Tshewang, Photographer, Thailand



Here are some steps on what to look for and how to make the most of natural light:


1. Clouded days

Contrary to what many think, clouds are some of the best situations to photograph in. Clouds act as a huge, sky-wide diffuser, softening the light from the sun so that it creates a low-contrast, even light to shoot in. Clouds can make for shadowed eyes, so bring your reflector along to compensate. Next time, instead of being disappointed at the lack of blue sky rather head out and use this type of light to your advantage.


Images by Alroy Ndhlovu

Images by Alroy Ndhlovu


"Photography is an art. Light can be thought of as a paint brush. There is plenty of information out there on what time of the day to shoot and what tools to use. My advice is to figure out what result you want to get and then start to think how you can use the available light to achieve the result."

- Alroy Ndhlovu, Photographer, South Africa


2. Window-light

Just next to large windows or open doorways, you’ll find one of the most flattering forms of natural light. Window-light works brilliantly for portraits or even still-life setups. The light is directional, coming in from the side of your subject to create good depth and shadow. Place your model or subject just next to the window, out of reach of direct sunlight. To fill in shadows, bounce light back onto your model by using a reflector.


Image by Tenzin Tshewang

Image by Tenzin Tshewang


"I've always been fascinated with the idea of using of natural light since it's constantly changing as we look. So I thought to myself, I don't need to use an external flashlight, there is already a light that I can use in multiple ways."

- Tenzin Tshewang, Photographer, Thailand


3. Open shade

This is a great light to use in the midday heat when the sunlight is strong, causing unflattering shadows. Look for objects that cast shade- it can be a building, shaded verandah, tree, or even man-made shade created by holding a scrim above your model’s head. Place your subject in that shaded area. The light will be balanced and well-diffused, yet strong enough to illuminate your subject and fill their eyes will alluring catchlights created by reflected light.


Images by Tenzin Tshewang

Images by Tenzin Tshewang


"When I'm shooting outdoor. there is an element of getting to use combinations that are more spontaneous and I try to find inspirations following lights that are of the obvious and then challenge myself to think of how this photo can taken entirely different."

- Tenzin Tshewang, Photographer, Thialand


4. Full sun

This can be a tricky light to work with, but used well this light often gives dramatic results. It’s contrasting and full of character, often casting interesting, graphic shadows on surfaces that you can work with. Fill in some of the shadows created by the sun by using a reflector to bounce light from the sun back onto your model, and experiment with the silver and gold sides of the reflector for an edgier look.


Images by Alroy Ndhlovu

Images by Alroy Ndhlovu


"As photographers we are taught not to shoot in mid-day sunlight because of the harsh light available then. Hard shadows, blown out highlights. I actually love those properties of harsh light... Natural light enables me to achieve my type of photography."

- Alroy Ndhlovu, Photographer, South Africa


5. Sunrise and sunset

Ah, golden light! This is a firm favourite with many natural light photographers. The light from the sun is at its most flattering near sunset and sunrise. Shooting into the sun to backlight your subject will result in images with golden flares of dreamy light, while placing the sun just to the side of your model will give good sidelight, highlighting their hair and bone-structure. Sunset tends to be a warmer, more orange light that sunrise, while sunrise is cooler, with a tinge of blue to the shadows but with a cleaner, fresher contrast.


Image by Alroy Ndhlovu

Image by Alroy Ndhlovua


"I am drawn to natural light because it is dynamic. It gives life. I love the way it wraps itself around the subject when uncontrolled. I love that it is in control... Even when we manipulate it, we only manipulate a part of it. In other words, it teaches us to work with nature. To learn to keep time, or to learn how, for example, leaves affect your image when the sun shines through them."

- Alroy Ndhlovu, Photographer, South Africa


It takes practice, but knowing how to use natural light adds a powerful skill to your image-creation toolkit. In just a few meters you can discover a variety of lighting conditions just by knowing what to look for and which direction to shoot in. Unburdened by soft boxes and flash modifiers, you’ll be immersed in the creative process, capturing images with exciting, sometimes unexpected, results.



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Written by


Teagan Cunniffe is a travel and lifestyle photographer based in Cape Town, South Africa. Her office is as frequently a desk as it is an airport or a mountain side, and is a firm believer in unscripted travel leading you to the best encounters and experiences. You can follow her on @tea_cunniffe or

Teagan Cunniffe

Images by


Alroy Ndhlovu Photographer

Alroy Ndhlovu

Photographer, South Africa


Tenzin Tshewang Photography

Tenzin Tshewang

Photographer, Thailand