Comparing Lighting: Natural light and studio light.

It is All About The Lighting.

Without light, we cannot make photographs. The lighting in a photograph makes a huge difference to its final result. In my line of work, the lighting I use influences how my portraits are perceived. Ultimately, it is the lighting that makes people determine what is a good photograph and what is a bad photograph.

It is the photographer’s job to capture light. In the area of portraiture, is is also their job to shape the light. Natural light and artificial light both need to be controlled for a great final outcome. While control is more obvious within a studio environment, there is just as much consideration within a natural light environment. Let’s have a look at a comparison of a few lighting scenarios.

Studio Light:

Studio light gives the photographer wonderful control. In my studio, I use a range of light modifiers (like softboxes), to shape the light. This allows me to make the light varying degrees of softness, control harsh shadows, create or minimise contrast, and have complete control over the mood in the final image.

In this image of Aponi (below), we used a studio environment. We used two light sources here. The first light source illuminated her face and torso. I used a softbox, aimed above and front-on, to create a soft light but to also capture the beautiful cheekbones she has. You can see some gentle catchlights in her eyes, to give a little sparkle.

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The second light in this image comes from behind her. You can see the light on the left of the image, hitting her hair and shoulder. This backlighting has given the final headshot a little bit more dimension. It helps to separate her from the background, and it also gives the image a nice glow.

Natural Light, in a Studio Environment:

I love soft, natural light. Natural light is wonderful to work with – creating beautiful skintones, natural catchlights in the eyes, and when soft, filling in shadows. In my studio, I have opportunities to utilise beautiful soft, natural light, that comes in through the windows.

Here we have Aponi again, with a bit of a different look. We have kept that lovely clean backdrop that can be achieved in the studio, drawing focus into her wonderful blue eyes! You can see how illuminated her eyes are – the brighter light shrinks the pupils, and there are great catchlights too.

You can see the light here was soft, but still had some direction. This is particularly emphasised on her left side, where we can see some dimension in her face – but note that these are not harsh shadows. They are beautiful and soft. I absolutely love this bright studio look. It feels really natural but keeps all the focus on the subject.

Natural Light Outdoors:

For my outdoor work, I generally utilise natural light. I find everything clicks together well, and I can control it to get the desired look I am after. I often use modifiers with the sun too: if that be to create shade, diffuse harsh sunlight, or reflect the light.

This final image of Aponi was taken with natural light outdoors. For this particular image we utilised the shade, although we had a cloudy day, which softened the light even more. Similar to the other natural light image above, you can see how bright Aponi’s eyes are in this image. We still get good dimension in her face, with the right of her being in a little more shadow. This gives us some depth into the image.

Natural light acting headshot of woman in Melbourne

The benefit of utilising natural light outdoors is to take advantage of the environment. We can use wide apertures to create really soft backgrounds, and achieve some beautiful bokeh. The simplistic background here is just a native gumtree – it worked well with her hair colour and skintone. It wasn’t distracting, and it created some cohesion in the image.

There’s No ‘Best’ Lighting:

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As long as your photographer has the skills to manipulate and control multiple lighting scenarios, my opinion is that there is no ‘better’ lighting when it comes to deciding between studio and natural light. Some people will have a preference – and that is fine too! There are benefits of Artificial light, and benefits of natural light. I work with both, and love the results I can get from each of them. I often run my portrait sessions with both studio and natural light in some way, but ultimately it depends on the desired final outcome.

Don’t forget to read my other articles for more advice, tips and insights into headshot photography.
You can view my portfolio of work here, and book your session online!