March 6, 2012
“I specialize in natural light photography” is a statement you’ll see on some photographers’ websites, but what does it mean? What is ‘natural light’ and does it make these photographers special?
Let’s get any pretense out of the way first; I’m rarely convinced by such statements. To me the subtext of what they’re saying is, “I don’t know how to use flash, flash scares me so I’ll pretend I don’t need it. I’ll just say I’m a specialist at not using it.”
In essence natural light is any light which isn’t man-made. Sun and moonlight is about it, but looking at some of the ‘natural light’ photographers, they’ll happily pull electric light into their lighting armoury, regardless of the strange colour casts you’ll get on people’s faces under this lighting.
Sometimes the photographer will fix this by turning their pictures to black and white. Which is fine if the client wants black and white. Not so clever if the images are for a colour project.
There are very few photographers around who can genuinely limit themselves to only taking pictures using natural light and nothing else. William Eggleston springs to mind, but I’m not sure you can hire him for your wedding or commercial shoot.
Brian Harris is a working English photojournalist who very rarely uses flash, but can get away with it because of his talent combined with the kinds of commissions he takes on.
As for myself, I often have to work in difficult lighting conditions but make the pictures have a particular style and look. This might mean daylight is sufficient, but often means I have to supplement the daylight (or even replace it entirely) with portable, battery-powered studio flash.
This may not be as simple as pointing and shooting using whatever light there is, but for me the results are worth the extra effort.
If you’re looking at hiring a corporate photographer who “only uses natural light” or “never uses flash”, chances are they just don’t know how to use flash. This isn’t a skill or specialism, it just means they haven’t learned the basic requirements to do the job. It’s always best to check their website first, look out for a dominance of black and white, or strange and inconsistent skin tones. For your projects it’s often important to get a consistent style across all your imagery, and that’s where portable studio flash can help. Oh, and someone who knows how to use it!