Comparing Natural and Artificial Light in Photography

Light is the most significant element of photography, all the way through. The quality of light you shoot will determine the final outcome of your photograph. The right lighting can create a portfolio-worthy photo but poor lighting can make the most meticulous arrangement. What exactly is good about light at all? This article will talk about the advantages of natural light lighting versus artificial in photography. I’ll also discuss ways to alter both artificial and natural lighting to create the most beautiful photographs.


What is Natural Light in Photography?

The most significant natural light source for photography, by far, can be found in the sun. The sun’s light can be soft, harsh as well as vibrant, diffused or any of the countless combinations. It takes some knowledge to know how sunlight influences your photographs and will open up a vast array of photography opportunities.

Natural light can originate from a variety of sources, including bioluminescence, volcanoes, firelight and even stars. However, what all natural sources of light share is the need to make use of the light source. Contrary to the way you can alter artificial light, there’s typically a more restricted variety of things that you could do alter nature’s light.

Why Use Natural Light?

One of the biggest advantages is that it’s natural. It generally, it just meets the eye of your viewer. Although cameras can’t duplicate what we see in many different ways the shadows and directionality as well as the tone produced by natural light generally seem familiar and normal to the people who see your images. Although harsh natural light like the midday sun could cause issues for your camera due to being too stark, it shouldn’t appear “wrong” to the same way artificial lighting that is poorly used will.

Another benefit from natural sunlight is its abundant supply. It’s probably obvious however, you don’t have to put in the time to set up speedlights or dialing the temperature of the lighting source when you’re working with sunshine. Natural light is easy to work with and is available almost everywhere (at at least during the daytime).

It’s also claimed that sunlight that is natural “easier” than working with artificial light. Although I don’t agree with that assertion however, an amateur photographer who doesn’t know about flash will have a much easier to achieve good results using natural light. The reason I’m not keen on this method is that it’s a bit lazy. It is best to use natural light as it’s the best option for your photograph and not because it’s more convenient than learning to operate your flash.

How to Modify Natural Light


The most fundamental method of “modify” your natural lighting is to shift your subject to the shade. It doesn’t matter if it’s shade from a building or tree or perhaps some artificial shade created by an umbrella or diffuser moving your subject into shade can transform harsh bright light into soft gentle, flattering light.

By moving to your shade area, you’re cutting out the effect of direct light striking your subject. This creates soft shadows. Depending on how light is absorbed by the area shaded it may provide more fill to the subject.

Another thing to be aware of when you are moving into shade is the relation between the brightness of your subject and the background’s brightness. Like artificial light, this connection can affect the appearance of your photo. A bright subject against an dark background will be literally shining light on your audience, while the reverse kind of photograph (with bright and bright background) will appear very vibrant and cheery.

Dog in shade natural light example
NIKON D7000 + 24mm f/1.4 @ 24mm, ISO 100, 1/80, f/2.0


A cloudy day could turn the whole sky into the shape of a softbox. Although these days of gray are rare in the desert I reside in, the presence of clouds every kind can provide intriguing lighting patterns. Overcast days may create the most soft lighting, and scattered clouds can provide interesting backdrops for the photos of your landscape.

Although clouds can’t be created by flipping the switch, watching for interesting weather patterns can help you make plans for shoots on specific areas. If you live in areas with a lot of clouds It’s generally possible to use your weather app to determine what the weather conditions will be like over the coming days and hours. If you are able to organize your photography to benefit from the cloud cover and the clouds, you’ll get more powerful photos.

NIKON D810 + 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 125mm, ISO 100, 1/640, f/5.6

Time of Day

Natural light can be extremely variable throughout just a few hours. The most typical illustration is mid-afternoon light and golden hour, sunset as well as blue hours. Each of these can give completely different styles to your photograph. Some lighting conditions are less elusive: think of the moments where the sun breaks through the clouds of storm.

The variety of conditions that can be encountered is difficult to give specific guidelines on deciding on an appropriate time of the day. The only thing I can suggest is to consider ahead to determine what is the best option for the photographs you wish to shoot. Do not just look at the light, but find out which time of the day is best for your photograph.

NIKON Z 7 + NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S @ 24mm, ISO 64, 1/640, f/7.1


You might not be able change the direction on the sun (at at the very least, I hope you don’t) however, it is possible to can alter the position of your subject and yourself relative with the sun. The angle you are facing can greatly affect the quality of natural sunlight.

For instance, if you place your subject in between yourself and the sun’s light, then you’ll produce striking backlighting. The sun’s angle in your back, however slightly off center, will create a great fill light to your subject while creating shadows to give contrast. Side-lighting, on the other hand, can provide large shadows with stark contrast. This is a great method to show patterns and textures in architecture or landscapes.

What is Artificial Light in Photography?

Artificial lighting in photography covers many different light sources, including on-camera flash and off-camera strobes, continuous lights such as LEDs or sources within your surroundings like neon signs and lamps. When photographers talk about artificial lighting, they’re thinking of flashes or continuous light sources – basically lighting sources that you control.

The addition of light to an area is a conscious decision. In most cases, the artificial light you use is intended to enhance the natural light and not replace it completely. For instance, you could enhance the shadows using the use of a fill flash when shooting outdoors. In other situations lighting, artificial light might be needed to illuminate your subject clearly for instance, if you are taking pictures of a bride and groom on the dark dance floor.

There are a variety different artificial sources of light that range from tiny on-camera flashes through huge studio strobes to more powerful continuous lighting. Although they can be modified by a variety of methods and I’ll go over them under the section on Modification, they all offer the photographer a greater degree of control over the quantity as well as the quality as opposed to working with natural sources. (If you’re not sure about the difference between continuous light and a strobe I’ve got your back.)

Why Use Artificial Light?

The most significant advantage of artificial light for photography is its control. In many types of photography, the ability to precisely adjust the quantity, direction, as well as the quality of lighting is extremely crucial. In addition, there is the artistic flexibility which comes from adjusting the color, direction and even the softness of the lighting for you.

Consistency and repeatability are two other significant advantages. In comparison to working with a fluctuating sunlight, the artificial lighting is more stable. This is a great benefit when working with clients that want your distinctive appearance, or simply making your work easier by utilizing a lighting system you love.

In the same way Artificial light won’t bring many surprises at you. You could show up to an outdoor shoot and suddenly the sky gets dark and dark and stormy. If you’re not sure how to recharge your batteries, this situation won’t occur using the flash.

Furthermore, artificial light permits you to exceed the technical limitations of your camera with natural light. Even at night you can take quality portraits using the flash that would require ISO 25600 with no. It is also possible to stop fast-moving subjects using flashes – subjects you wouldn’t have the chance to capture otherwise.

NIKON Z 6 + NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S @ 41mm, ISO 100, 1/60, f/5.6

How to Modify Artificial Light

Begin by using the Light Source

There are many kinds different artificial lights that could be used for photography and come with advantages and drawbacks

  • Small flashes are cheap and easy to use and still provide plenty of illumination for smaller subject matter and smaller groupings of individuals. They allow you to freeze fast-moving objects, but they generally aren’t equipped with the most advanced options.
  • Larger flashes offer greater power and quicker recycle times, and are equipped to fill larger mods such as umbrellas with softboxes or parabolics. They are generally more expensive.
  • Continuous LED-based lights typically offer a variety of options for creative use including RGB CCT, RGB, and colour modes that are gelled. They can also be used in video, but flash is not. However, they’re not as powerful as a flash, strobe or strobe. Therefore, they aren’t suitable for certain applications.

No matter what you decide to do with artificial lighting, it’s crucial to comprehend how the style of light affects your choices in the future. If you’re seeking an edgier appearance, for instance you should choose an intense light that can work with a huge softbox. Also, if you’re planning to record video, you need to figure out a constant lighting system that is suitable for your needs.

NIKON Z 7 + 105mm f/2.8 @ 105mm, ISO 64, 1/200, f/8.0


You should consider budgeting for a range of different modifiers when you choose your lighting equipment. Every source of artificial lighting is more effective when you have a variety of different modifiers available. By adding stripboxes or softboxes, you can to increase the size of the source, and a snoot, or grid will help you to make sure that the spill is confined. Gels allow you to transform an ordinary pure white light to a variety of shades, or make your strobe match other lights within the frame, such as sunset.

There’s a huge selection of light modifiers available and it can become difficult to decide which one to use when you first start with a lighting kit made of artificial materials. I’d recommend starting at the beginning: something that will reduce the brightness, an item that helps concentrate on the lighting, as well as gels that shade the light. If you have those three possibilities, you are able to create an array of designs.

To be more precise it is recommended to employ a softbox or umbrella for softening the light. In addition, tools that are basic like grids or snoots can help focus or to harden the light at an affordable price. Gels can be found in a variety of kits, and all you have to do is ensure you choose one that is able to be connected to the light source you want to use.


Another key aspect to altering artificial light is altering the distance between the light source and the subject. Moving the light closer to your subject can reduce the brightness (by expanding its perceived size) and also cast more light onto your object.

For more information about lighting and diffusers read Nicholas’s complete guide to diffusers here.

Graphic showing the difference between a diffuser used close to the subject vs. away from the subject to create nice soft artificial lighting for flash photography


I believe that understanding light is among the most important considerations for photographers. Even if you’re just a landscape photographer and never require artificial lighting there are a number of ideas at play will be relevant when you think about how the sun’s light will affect the landscape throughout the day.

In the case of artificial light should you have been putting off learning how to utilize your flash, consider this as a signal to start learning it today! The versatility and creativity you get from artificial light is useful for any kind of photography.

I hope that this article helped give you an understanding of the difference between natural and artificial light, as well as some of their distinct features. When you are familiar with these kinds of light, and how to modify them, you are able to make any kind of image you want to create.