Natural Light VS. Studio Light
In photography, light is always what makes the magic happen. You need some level of light in order to capture all of your images, but the type of light you use is up to you. Studio lighting versus natural lighting is a choice photographers must make when planning for their shoots. Some shooters feel so strongly about this debate that they elect to only work with one or the other to produce their signature work. Whether or not you feel partial to either option, they each definitely have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Shooting in natural light may seem like the easier option since it requires less set up, but it takes a skilled eye to learn which environments have ideal light. You’ll want to pay attention to what direction the light is coming from, where the light is hitting your subject, where shadows are created, and how bright the light is. The main obstacle of shooting with natural light is that the light is constantly changing even if you don’t immediately notice it with your bare eyes. Clouds can block your light on a whim, and once the sun sets, your light is gone. This can be challenging, but it does force you to be quick and on point to make sure you get the shot you want before the light fades away. Once you master the skill of harnessing natural light, you can create some purely beautiful images.
Although natural lighting is governed by the sun (or moon), we also have the power to manipulate it using tools like reflectors, diffusers, and flags. Reflectors are metallic surfaces, commonly either silver or golden, that are used to literally reflect light, bouncing it from one angle and directing it onto your subject. These are incredibly useful when the sun is not shining directly on your subject or when there is an area of your scene that isn't lit well enough. Diffusers are translucent filters, and are held in between the light source and subject to soften the light. This can be useful when shooting in extremely intense direct sunlight and the light is too harsh for your liking. Flags are light blockers that absorb light and allow you to remove light from a certain area of your subject. However, although we do have these tools to manipulate natural light, there is something authentic and raw about simply shooting in the light that the sun creates.
Studio light is the realm where you can really get innovative with light, as every single aspect is created by you. Strobe lights or continuous lights can be used to create a whole new environment in the studio. You control everything from how bright the light is, what position and angle its coming from, what section of your subject/scene it hits, and even what hue it is by covering it in colored gels. Advanced photographers also take advantage of their light sources by wrapping them with accessories like umbrellas, beauty dishes, soft boxes, and honeycombs to create different lighting effects. Umbrellas are a type of reflector that bounce and spread light evenly across your set. Beauty dishes similarly reflect light evenly and are used to wrap your models face in flattering light for portraits. Soft boxes are diffusion that are used to soften and spread the light across your subject. Honeycombs direct light, creating a spotlight and removing unwanted spill over. You can also use panel reflectors, diffusers, and flags to manipulate studio light as well.
Shooting with studio light can become complicated and sometimes overwhelming as there are so many choices to make. However, once you spend some time practicing, you’ll find certain setups that work for you and that you can recycle for many different shoots. There are endless online tutorials to help you get started; check out this Studio Essentials series from Adorama. As you experiment, you’ll find that studio light does require a bit more initial setup than natural light, but once you test your lights and settle on a set up that creates your desired results, you can shoot away until your trigger batteries run out.
There are certainly pros and cons to each lighting option, however, both studio and natural light can lead to incredible results in your photography work. When it comes down to it, the decision to shoot in natural light versus studio light is really based on what look you’re going for. So try both, and lean towards whatever suits your visual aesthetic or your next shoot's needs.