How a Studio Photographer Came to Love Natural Light Again

I’m a studio photographer. There are no two ways around that fact. It also happens to be the way I like it. I prefer the absolute control I have over every single factor in a studio environment. That way, I’m not at the whim of changing light at different times of the day or inclement weather.

How a Studio Photographer Came to Love Natural Light Again - studio portrait of a lady

As a studio photographer, my preferences are for an environment where I control every aspect of the light.

A lot of this might have to do with the fact that I live in the United Kingdom, and for the most part, the stereotypes about the weather aren’t wrong. That and daylight hours throughout the year vary wildly. In the summer, I may have daylight until 11 PM, in the winter, that changes to 3 PM. Locked away in my studio, I don’t have to worry about sudden unpredicted rain (in Yorkshire, there’s a lot of it).

I don’t have to worry about summer temperatures dropping below ten degrees (Celcius) causing severe discomfort for my subjects and myself. Most importantly, I don’t have to worry about the light being even slightly different then I want. In a studio, I decide what I want and if the lights aren’t quite there, I change them until they are as desired.

Of course, I have nothing against natural light. I just have a preference based on how I like to work.

Using Natural Light

outdoor portrait of a girl - How a Studio Photographer Came to Love Natural Light Again

On occasion, I get out to use natural light when there’s something specific to achieve.

This doesn’t mean I have forsaken natural light as some sort of taboo subject. No, I still use it from time to time, but it’s usually when I’m trying to do something specific in a certain location or with a special technique that can’t be done in a studio.

portrait of a man with gray hair - How a Studio Photographer Came to Love Natural Light Again

This image was taken only as a technical exercise because of how the light was behaving in a bit of open shade close to sunset.

Shifting perspective

How a Studio Photographer Came to Love Natural Light Again - window lit studio

The large windows in this natural light studio make the space a veritable playground for any photographer enthusiastic about lighting.

Last year, I booked a natural light studio with enormous windows for the first time and the experience completely changed the way I think about these things. I went in treating the whole thing as an experiment. As such, I had no concrete plans. I was going to go in and explore the space, look for pockets of light, and try to seize whatever opportunity presented itself.

How a Studio Photographer Came to Love Natural Light Again - portrait of a lady indoors

The dim, overcast day made for this glorious soft light coming through the windows.

Long story short, I was hooked in minutes. I’m sure the sight of me bouncing from corner to corner going “Ooo, look at the light here and look it at it over here” was more than a bit comical.

The whole experience was like a four hour treasure hunt. It seemed like everywhere I turned, the light was doing something new that was worth exploiting. I can easily compare the feeling to the enthusiasm I felt when I first got a camera and just randomly walked around taking photos of everything and burning through film like it didn’t matter.

As an added bonus, the changeability of the light (one of the factors that kept me firmly in the studio) made new opportunities all the time. On several occasions, I’d move from one spot to another, only to see what the light was doing in the first spot later on and I’d go straight back to it and get completely different results.

girl next to a window - How a Studio Photographer Came to Love Natural Light Again

A short while after the previous image was taken, the sun came out a bit changing the light from this window completely.

There is one thing that I found very hard to replicate in a studio environment. This particular studio is in an old industrial mill and the windows (there are a lot of them) are gargantuan. This gave the light a beautiful soft quality that would be hard to replicate with artificial lighting.

Needless to say, I loved my first time in a natural light studio and have since made it a point to go back and try to find other natural light venues as well.

lady in a gold top - How a Studio Photographer Came to Love Natural Light Again

Even from further away, the light from the windows was still soft and provided gentle tonal transitions.

New ideas

An unexpected side effect of this experience is that I every time I come out of one of these places, I leave with a head full of ideas on how I can apply what I’ve seen the light doing in the studio.

darker portrait of lady in yellow top - How a Studio Photographer Came to Love Natural Light Again

Using a strobe with High-Speed Sync functionality allowed me to darken the studio’s windows for a dramatic background while lighting the subject the way I would in a normal studio environment.

On top of that, I have always forsaken the option of mixing natural light with flash. For whatever reason, I never really felt that it was worth the effort. My opinion on this has changed dramatically since my first visit to that studio. Now I’m always looking for new ideas on how I can use and exploit natural light at any time of day and mix it with studio strobes if need be.

portrait of a girl with long blond hair - How a Studio Photographer Came to Love Natural Light Again

Also made using High-Speed Sync, the flash allowed me to fill in the shadows created by the backlighting from the windows. The result is an even exposure throughout the frame and no blown out windows.

Am I a Convert to Natural Light?

I’m still a studio photographer, there’s no doubt about that. I still prefer the control the studio provides and I will still default to that. However, I won’t be going out of my way to avoid natural light settings in the future.

Between the multitude of opportunities these experiences provided me and the ideas I took away from them, I will be making it a point to regularly shoot in natural light just to shake things up a bit if nothing else.

The end

The point of all this? Good question. If you’re like me, and you find yourself stuck in a rigid pattern, such as my adherence to studio work, I encourage to make the conscious choice of going out and pursuing the exact opposite.

You might very well find that your convictions towards whatever it is you’re stuck to aren’t founded as solidly as you had thought. If nothing else, it will give the opportunity to learn something new and to grow as a photographer and nobody can argue that that’s a bad thing.

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