What is a natural light wedding or lifestyle photographer and why should I hire one? | Charlotte, NC
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
A natural light photographer does not always mean "Natural" light. It is actually referring to an available light photographer. This means they shoot with whatever light is naturally occurring in that environment whether it be sunlight, incandescent, florescent, etc. I'm honestly not sure where the term "natural light photographer" came from, but I will say that it just means they are a good photographer that doesn't completely rely on flash to create stunning images. However, and this is a big however, I would warn you against anyone that goes strictly by that label. I have my warning and reasons at the end of this post, so make sure and read that before hiring anyone.
Also, I think there are misconceptions about what types of photos natural light photogs take. Some people think they basically mean dreamy, evenly lit photos, and that is not always the case. In fact, it rarely could be. Natural light photographers use the light to fit their style and vision. If their style is dramatic, then they use the light that way.
In my perception, people are drawn to the "natural light photographer", because they are scared of visible flash or seeing that flash has been obviously used. A good photographer will not leave evidence of this whether they call themselves a natural light photographer or not. Look at the last collage in this post for an example of this. Also, it could be a fun game to choose which ones I used flash for and which ones I didn't before reading below the collage!
(The above image was taken by a window. To me it's very important to get details of the day within the context of the day. In this case, the ring on her right hand was her "something old", and it belonged to her grandmother.)
WHY SHOULD I HIRE A NATURAL LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHER?
A LIGHT GENIUS
A good natural light photographer knows light like the back of their hand! They don’t just shoot and pray they get a good shot, nor do they shoot with the intention of having to hand edit every single picture that they’ve taken to make you look flattering. Notice I said "make you look flattering". The reason for that is a good photographer will find the things your soon to be spouse finds beautiful or attractive in you. That photographer will then highlight all of those wonderful things. He or she will manipulate either you or the light to make you shine brighter than you ever have before. Natural light photographers are very creative individuals by finding the pops of light and the mystery within the shadows!
(The above images were taken at 2 different windows within the venue. Mike, the Groom, is a more rugged man, but highly intelligent. I wanted to show him as very distinguished with a little mystery. His son was young and playful, so I did want definition, but more playfulness rather than drama. Although the images convey different moods, they still match well for father son portraits from the wedding.)
Natural light photographers know when the ambient light will not work for their desired vision or the situation in general. For instance there is beautiful light coming through the window, and the overhead incandescent or florescent lights are casting a color onto you, or they are giving light interference in general. The good photographer will turn the overhead light off and capture you naturally by the window. While that may seem like an easy decision, and it is one, the photographer must also have an idea in their head of how you will be at the window. How far should I turn his body and head in? Am I going for dramatic or playful? Should he look mysterious? Does she have skin that might benefit from a little diffusion. How much of a shadow should I allow to cast on her cheek? All of these questions and more come very natural to the photographer, and he/she answers them within a matter of seconds to begin fulfilling their vision.
(The above image is a behind the scenes of me directing Adam, the Groom, to get the light to fall exactly how I wanted on his face. It is a bts of the first image on the blog. I turned all the lights off in the hotel room and used only the window light.)
Natural light photographers make wonderful photojournalists. For instance, it's full sun and you are coming down the aisle. The photographer likely can't put up an off camera flash to accommodate every movement down the aisle. They can rely on their on camera flash for a little fill (for the deep shadows), but they also look at the natural light to know where to stand and what angle to capture you best. Even when full overcast, the quality of light will be different depending on where the photographer is and where the subject is in relation to the photographer. In overcast there is still a direction of light to be found-photographers just know how to find it. Sometimes it's hard to figure out what the best light direction may be, but I have a small test I do that literally takes 15 seconds of my time.
(These 2 images came from the same wedding, and you can see a huge difference in the quality of light and also the shadows. When I say natural light photographers make good photojournalists this means we know where to stand to get better images. The image to the left produced way less harsh shadowing, and I actually took the front for most of this wedding due to this. As you can see on the image to the right, Jennifer's eyes are very dark, and there is a dark shadow line down her cheek. I also used fill flash with both of these images.)
Natural light photographers do not rely on flash units; rather, they use them when necessary, or they employ them to better create their vision. In the example above I spoke about using "fill flash" to fill in the shadows. Think about what the sun is like between 12 and 3PM on a summer afternoon. The sun is blinding, and it creates very harsh shadows that aren't flattering to anyone naturally. If you are coming down the aisle, the photographer can position him or herself at the best angle, expose for the highlights on your face, then use a little zap of flash to ensure the shadowing isn't so extreme that it becomes too dark or unflattering. The flash can even it all out a bit.
(The above images were shot on 2 different days. Jackie's bridal session was scheduled before the wedding. Jackie told me she specifically wanted some sunset pictures at her wedding, so I did some sunset pictures with her bridals to make sure it matched. When shooting in the direction of the sun, you will almost always need additional light if you want to retain the sunset background and not have the foreground too washed out. I used on camera flash with a Gary Fong diffuser for all of these.)
SETTING THE STAGE FOR FLATTERING AND NATURAL INTERACTIONS
Natural light photographers will direct where you and your family/friends should stand/look when important things are happening. Of course we want to capture genuine emotion in the best possible light.
(The above image was a newborn session turned lifestyle family session. As you can see the light is coming from the window in my studio on the left. I purposely put their faces where I wanted them, and then I said something funny. I direct the pose with the light, then I evoke the emotion.)
(In the above images sunlight was behind them and bouncing off the lake house in front of them. However, I still used a little fill light from my flash with my Gary Fong Dome diffuser just to make sure I didn't get any dark eyes.)
USING FLASH CREATIVELY
I like some drama in my photos at a reception, so I like to use off camera flash, and I like to manipulate my on camera flash to cause it to look like a big soft box made the light. I learned a wonderful trick from Jerry Ghionis, and what you do is turn your flash head 90 degrees. This may sound strange, but when it bounces it looks like you have an off camera flash with a huge softbox on it. Bouncing the light in this way creates a flattering quality of light and dramatic flare that can also be subtle. As you can see in the photo below it does not look like I used a speed light on camera!
WARNINGS ABOUT NATURAL LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHERS
They are not all made the same! There are, unfortunately, a good many newer photographers that use that title, because they don't know how to use flash. If they don't know how to use flash, and they boast that title because they have to, they likely do not have a good enough understanding of light to be a natural light photographer or a photographer in general. It's unfortunate that I even have to type this last part, but I want to make sure everyone is warned. The way to circumvent accidentally hiring this type of person is to do a thorough check of their portfolio. Will they let you see a few full weddings? Ask them why they are a natural light photographer, and be wary of anyone that uses pretty language or is just vague about it such as "I like it!" I can tell you exactly why it's my preference: It gives me the ability to be as free and creative as possible without taking up too much time and space, not to mention the cut down on weight! I'm a tiny girl, so anything that allows me maximum creativity with as little weight as possible will help me to do my job better. I thoroughly enjoy being able to use the distinct atmosphere as is, and I love solving problems creatively and effectively. Being a natural light photographer can be challenging and stimulating!