Most professional photographers, at some point, are faced with the question: is it better to use flash light or natural light in their photography? I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer, but as a photographer who has made the leap from solely using natural light to regularly using some form of flash light or artificial lighting I thought I’d write this blog to review some key differences between the two, and highlight some pros and cons.
Definitions vary but for the purposes of this article natural light is, in simple terms, available light, generally produced by the sun or moon but equally it could be street lighting or the light from a fire. Artificial light is produced a controllable source, such as studio strobe, speedlight, LED light or camera pop up flash. As a wedding photographer I use off camera speedlights as they are portable, versatile and easy to set up.
The biggest advantage of natural light is that it is free, usually easy to find and in abundance! All cameras are designed to work in natural light and there is very little pre-shoot setup necessary. Due to the ease of use, it is generally the only light source in the majority of photographs.
Despite it’s abundance, it can be very challenging to use as the intensity of natural light varies enormously. Depending upon the season, weather, location and time of day, natural light will produce different colours and contrast in your images. For example; evening sunlight produces a beautiful warm golden light whilst midday sun tends to produce a neutral and extremely high contrast light. Some of these issues can be overcome with the use of reflectors, diffusers and lens filters, but generally a photographer is going to have to work with what nature provides them.
Firstly artificial, or flash light, offers more control over your lighting. It enables me to capture a photograph that is dramatic. My subjects can be separated from the background by the use of fill in flash, or given a highlight with back flash.
Combining multiple flash units will give a combination of effects and remove shadows.
The other great advantage of a bit of flash light is that it can bring your subject’s eyes to life. That little light spot reflecting in the subject’s eyes provides life to your photographs.
The disadvantages from my prospective are cost, the extra equipment to carry and the time required to set up the photograph. The use of flash can take away the flexibility that is often needed at weddings to enable me to capture that split second emotion, or event. Consequently, I tend to use flash only for the group and family photographs and during the time I spend with my couples capturing some amazing fine art images. Flash can also be a very harsh light that casts heavy shadows though this can be avoided with the use of soft boxes and umbrellas.
So the secret, particularly as a wedding photographer, is to know when to use flash light and when to stick with natural light! As I’ve mentioned earlier in my blog, the majority of photographs are taken using only natural light. The use of flash light can be cumbersome and generally requires a shoot to be set up. This can take away the spontaneity and candid style of photography that many clients are looking for.
My style of wedding photography leans towards unobtrusively capturing the events of the day as they unfold – Candid Wedding Photography. Generally, the only time I direct my subjects is during the group or family photographs, and when I get the couple alone for a while to capture my signature images – Fine Art Wedding Photography. My decision to use flash light or natural light will depend on the light conditions at the time and the effect I am trying to achieve (Candid or Fine Art)
Some examples of natural light shots:
Some examples of flash light photographs:
If you would like to know more about using a simple flash light configuration to add some sparkle to your work then drop me a comment. I am in the process of designing some entry level courses and portfolio shoots. So watch this space…