When most people, photographers or non photographers, think about lighting they think the magic hour. Magic hour is that golden time period right when the sun starts to set until sunset. In reality, there are numerous different times to shoot with natural light; golden hour, blue hour, daytime, and nighttime. I'm sure you're thinking now what are all those other times? Let me explain.
This is the time right when the sun begins to rise until full sunrise and right after sunset but before nighttime. This time casts a mysterious blue color or dusky color over your images. When you shoot during this hour, you retain the vivid colors of what you are shooting. This time is great for moody photographs. Due to how short this lasts, 20-30 minutes, you will need to plan ahead to capture your photographs. Blue hour is a little more tricky to get the hang of but having a camera that supports good high ISO and a tripod helps to capture a great image. Silhouettes are also a popular shot during the end of the evening blue hour or if you are wanting to capture artificial light in the photograph. To practice this light, set your ISO as high as it can go with low noise, your shutter speed at 1/50, and your lowest f-stop. Once you have these settings, go outside and take a few practice shots. If the photograph turns out too bright, lower your ISO first.
This is the most known hour in photography. This time occurs right before sunset and right after sunrise. When shooting during this hour, you achieve a golden glow and some great backlit opportunities. Photographs during the golden hour are used for a soft even light that has a golden touch. This hour also captures a wider dynamic range of shadows and highlights without blowing them out or underexposing (clipping). If you love those lens flares and rainbow circles, or warm dreamy photographs this hour is your best friend. When you start to see that golden light shining through your window grab your camera and walk outside. Start with your settings at 1/400, f2, and ISO 100. Look around do you see the light shining through the fence, or hitting the field just perfectly? Try grabbing someone to model for you and use that golden light as a hair light.
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I know, I know. I'm sure you are thinking any other hours are horrible for photography! This time period between the blue and golden hours allows for some great creative opportunities. For example, let's imagine summer time. What do you think of during the summer? Hot weather, bright sun, bleached hair, or the beach are common themes. During the daytime, you can use the sun as a story telling tool. Shooting in the bright noon sun can portray a summer hot day look in your photographs. This time can also show a dry harsh region for documentary photography. When using the sun during this time, pay attention to where it is hitting your subject. Now, you are able to use that bright sun as a spotlight. Start with 100 ISO, f/16, and your shutter speed at 1/100 (known as the sunny 16 rule). Practice shooting the subject from the side and creating deep shadows on one side of the face or body. Pay attention to how the light wraps around the subject. Now move to the other side and take a photograph. Do you see a difference in the mood? If the subject appears too dark, adjust your ISO to a higher number and if the subject is too bright bring your shutter speed to a higher number. This technique can be used with any direction but it is best to never have your subject facing the sun directly. Another helpful tool to capture photographs during the daytime is to use a lens hood, read further down to learn more about what they do!
Okay, how do we use natural light during nighttime? It's dark Ashley! there isn't any natural light! It's true that during night time the sun is not up anymore but natural light can come in different ways at night. If you step outside on a full moon night, you are able to still see what is around you. Using this natural light, can achieve some very moody photographs. We can also use a bonfire to light up your subject. This can create some unique shadows and highlights and a very dark dynamic range. Or if you are up for some landscape photography, you can capture a gorgeous starry sky and if you are lucky in the summer time, even some fireflies. To prepare for this time period, you would need a camera that can support a good high ISO and a tripod, plus some patience. Practice setting your camera to 1/30 shutter speed, f3, and the highest low noise your ISO is able to achieve. After your first shot, adjust your shutter speed down if it is still too dark at which point you will need your tripod, if your photograph came out too bright then up your up your shutter speed. Look at this article if you really want to capture some amazing star pictures! https://www.colesclassroom.com/night-photography-tips/
Now that you know the types of light you can take advantage of, let's talk about a few more tips and tricks using the light for you verse against you.
Imagine a giant soft box. This is essentially what a cloudy day does to the sun. You will get evenly distributed light over your subject. Don't fear the shade. It can be your best friend as a beginner! Cloudy days or shadow coverage photographs are easy to brighten and add warmth to in post editing. To set your camera for a cloudy day, you will not need as high of an f-stop or shutter speed as on bright clear days. Start with your settings at 1/200, f2, and ISO 100.
Similar to how clouds act as a giant soft box, a window allows the same effect but the biggest difference is that you can control where the light is hitting your subject. Practice having them move closer to the window. You will notice a fast drop off from the shadows verse the light. Now try to pull your subject away from the window. Do you notice now how the shadows fall off your subject less drastically? The ideas are endless for window light with backlighting, side lighting, front lighting and so forth.
This is an object you can attach to your camera lens. You would use this during a bright day or when the sun is higher in the sky. With a hood, you can block stray light from hitting your lens which can cause the light flares, haze, and light dots that could appear on your subject.
In the end, we see light everywhere. The Sun’s rays peek through the curtain or through some trees. If you wonder how that su would look through the camera, take the picture. Practice everywhere. Is the sun shining rays down on your garden? Are your kids playing by the window and the sun is highlighting their hair? Did the storm just finish and the sun is starting to peek through the clouds? Is your family out playing in the sprinkler on a hot summer day? It is simple. Just take a photo, adjust the settings, and see what happens.