How to use natural light for macro photography?

Sunlight is one of the most common things in life. Natural light is the term we use to refer to sunlight in photography, as opposed to artificial light, which is usually produced by using a light bulb to convert electricity into light.

Although natural light is always produced by the sun, it can vary greatly due to many factors. As a photographer, you need to understand how it works and make the most of it. In this article, we will look at how natural light works and how it can be applied to macro photography.

1. What is natural light?

We all know that photography requires light, so light plays a very important role in the success of photographs. Indoors, we can use various artificial light sources, such as flashlights, light tubes, and so on.

In an outdoor setting, photographers can make use of natural light, which is the light from the sun hitting the earth. We may find that even if the same subject is photographed, the effect will be different at different times. Sometimes the image may appear stiff, and sometimes it may be softer. Or at one time the color of the image tends to be cold, at the same time it is warm. These are actually related to natural light.

Natural lighting is a constant challenge for photographers. The time of the shooting, the weather, and the direction of the camera also affect the effect of natural light on the subject. There are three main types of natural light projected on a subject: direct light scattered light and reflected light. Examples of direct light are natural light that is not obscured by clouds and fog.

This light produces warmer colors, and images taken with this light have higher contrast. Scattered light, such as sunlight passing through clouds, produces cooler colors and lower contrast; The reflected light is light from other reflective surfaces, which is softer. Depending on which light the subject is exposed to, it depends on the time of day and the weather, which can affect the white gloss and contrast of the image.

2. Natural light changes over time

The nature of natural light changes over time. For example, when the sun is high above us in the middle of the day, most of the sunlight comes down from the top of our heads, creating strong shadows on the subject and creating the highest contrast. In when afternoon, the position of the sun gradually drops, more and more close to the horizontal position, at this time the light projected to the same subject must travel a longer distance in the atmosphere, in the atmosphere of the light scattering or diffusion will be larger, producing a softer light.

In addition, the original light through the atmosphere during the blue light will be absorbed, so if the sun is closer to the horizontal position, the light in the air long walking distance, namely the more blue light is absorbed, the light will present the effect of a warm color tone, which explains why the sunrise and sunset when the warm sunshine with red and yellow.

Macro photography of flowers

3. How to use natural light for macro photography?

(1) The quality of light

Light quality is a term commonly used by photographers to refer to the “hardness” or “softness” of a light source.

This quality depends on the way a given light source creates transitions between highlights and shadows.

Soft light produces smooth transitions, while strong light produces sudden transitions between tonal areas, reducing or increasing the image contrast.

The basic principle is The bigger the light source, the softer the light.

This means that due to changes in the distance between the sun and earth during the day, sunlight becomes softer towards sunrise and sunset and harder towards noon.

Macro photography of plants

(2) Lighting direction

The direction of the light is the position of the light relative to the object, which determines the width of the shadow it creates, thus giving it texture and shape.

Rationale: Shadows fall on the opposite side of the light source.

Front lighting has a “flat” effect on most objects because it casts shadows from behind and eliminates the 3D effect.

Side lighting enhances the texture of an object because it creates side shadows to achieve a sense of size and volume.

Backlighting creates a silhouette effect that distinguishes the subject from the background, giving it an edge.

(3) Color and contrast

Natural light color, white balance, and contrast depend on two factors:

The first factor, the time of day affects the position of the sun. The closer the sun gets to the horizon, the less contrast and the warmer the light.

Macro photography of flowers

The second factor that affects the contrast and color of light weather is mainly due to the presence of clouds, which act as a huge diffuser, resulting in reduced contrast and blueness.

(4) Tools

Basic tools such as reflectors and diffusers are essential resources for natural light photography. While there is plenty of special equipment for macro photography to choose from, if you don’t want to spend your hard-earned money on it, you can also build your own out of something you might already have at home.

Trace paper, baking paper, and aluminum foil are excellent materials for custom diffusers and reflectors. Just cut them into the size and shape that best suits your needs.

(5) Add more light

Even if sunlight is the only source of light, other spots can be easily simulated using mirrors. We had to add specular reflection on the other side of the main light source to better outline the object.

(6) Separate from the background

In photography, many factors affect the separation of the subject from the background: the focal length, the aperture, the distance between the subject and the background, and the light.

But because macro photography is a specific type of shooting done over a small area, all of these factors become critical, as every small change can lead to a huge difference in the final image. It was difficult to use a hand-held camera because the scene was so large. For macro photography, a tripod and shutter release must be used.

Macro photography of flowers

Without a doubt, the biggest concern in macro photography is the depth of the field. Usually, the focus area is so small that even the smallest change in the object’s distance or aperture can cause errors, and this shallow depth of field can also be used to the advantage of separating the subject from the background.

(7) Combine natural light with strobe light

Sometimes the natural light is not enough to produce the desired image, and mixing natural light with the flash is not an easy task, as the flash tends to overwhelm the natural light, giving the image an artificial appearance.

But mixing just the right amount of these overbright sources can produce interesting results.

Images are captured using a ring flash that creates specular highlights in water droplets and has a faster shutter speed that enables the background to capture natural light.

Good results can be obtained only by combining the two light sources. Using only natural light will cause dull water droplets to darken. If only the flash is used, artificial light will be generated.

Macro photography of flowers

4. Conclusion

Don’t be afraid to try, because trial and error is the best way to succeed. Once you understand the rules, you can adapt to your situation and turn poor lighting into great graphics.

Learn to use natural light; it’s free, after all, and every day is definitely different!


Do I need a ring light for macro photography?

A ring light is very helpful in macro photography. Especially if you are using extension tubes. As you are getting closer and closer to your subject, you’ll find your lenses stop natural or flashgun light. Having a ring flash at the front element of your lens means having a subject that is well lit.

What is the best natural light for photography?

The best source of natural light is either sunrise or sunset. Mornings and evenings offer the softest light as the lower sun casts softer shadows. Morning has the added advantage of being quiet.

How do you soften natural light photography?

When photographing food indoors with natural light, you can soften the light by placing a white material opposite the window, placing food between it and the window.

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