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The presence, or absence, of natural light greatly impacts the quality of a photograph. In order to get the best photos outside, learn how to adjust your camera settings in anticipation of shifting natural light.

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What Is Natural Light Photography?

Natural light photography is a style of photography that uses only naturally available light. Natural light is ambient light supplied by the sun or the moon—not a camera flash or other artificial light. Natural light changes every minute, as the sun moves across the sky. That’s why knowing exactly where the sun will rise or set on any given day is incredibly helpful when you’re planning a shoot.

What Is the Difference Between Hard Light and Soft Light?

Even though we think of the sun as a constant source of light, the reality is that light changes temperature throughout the day (because of the way the light passes through the atmosphere). If you’re working with natural (or available) light, you need to have a basic understanding of the quality, direction, and color temperature of light. Quality refers to whether the light is hard or soft.

  • Hard light is what light looks like on a sunny day, with deep shadows that have crisp, distinct edges.
  • Soft light is what light looks like on a cloudy day, where shadows are much softer, and the edge of the shadow is not distinct. Soft light is great for portraits, because people don’t end up with harsh shadows on their faces.
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