The value of natural light for your campaign photos

“All you need is light”

PART 1: Why shooting with daylight is the most natural thing in the world

Welcome to part three of my tips for better campaign shoots. After discussing a few fundamentals and the effects of different visual factors on your imagery in the first two parts of this guide, we go ahead with what you must know about light to be able to decide and communicate exactly what you want for your photos – first of all to the photographer that you work with. Why is this important? Because photography is basically just like a painting done by light. The direction, intensity and kind of light used are determining how an image, and therefore your fashion will look like. Of course, you don’t actually need to know how flashlights function. But if you’re aware of how light can create the mood of your choice, you’re far ahead of many others and the outcome of your shoot will much more look like your previous vision of it. Agree? Great, so then let’s talk about the usage of daylight, flashlight, continuous light and their performance, handling, and the possibilities of shaping it within the next four articles. Today’s article is covering everything worth knowing about daylight and why you might want to use it for your images.

Daylight is arbitrary but yet we love it

It’s not for nothing that more and more pearly-white daylight studios are opening and being successfully renting out. However, it’s recommended to be able to judge whether there really is enough light on set and how to handle it, especially when you had anything particular in mind for your photos. E.g. when you consider shooting in a studio or room that looks pretty bright to you, the camera might see things differently. That’s due to your eyes’ and brains ability to adapt to poor light situations, without you noticing. Clearly, building the set very close to windows is the right answer to such problems. If there are no high buildings around and the window’s facing east, south or west, you’re good to go. But if the conditions aren’t ideal, it’s also possible to help increase the brightness in the picture by adding white surfaces opposite to the window (which we call reflectors) or a subtle artificial light, ideally bouncing back from a white wall. And then there are two other factors to be kept in mind, when it comes to daylight shoots: the time of day and the weather condition. Daylight permanently changes it’s intensity and colour during the day, while e.g. clouds covering and exposing the sun alternately are complicating things additionally. Even worse are rainy days, which barely offer enough light outdoors, let alone indoors. But although it’s not always easy to rely on good available light, its merits are often worth it. The reason is: natural light creates very natural looking pictures, which everyone loves. In terms of authenticity, it might, therefore, be the right choice for your campaign, depending on what you want to say with your images.

Which light situations are we possibly facing during outdoor shoots?

morning light

Morning light isn’t for everyone, simply because you’ll need to get up early! The call time must be in the middle of the night (especially during summertime) so that the make-up and hairstyle are done by sunrise. However it’s oftentimes the best time of the day to shoot before 11 am because it’s pretty bright, yet soft, the light temperature is mostly neutral (after the golden hour) and on top of that you might find abandoned places more easily than during noon or afternoon. Of course most productions have a greater workload and usually, it’s not possible to shoot a whole collection only in the morning. However, making use of the morning light offers you the possibility of having a break during the harsh midday sun and continue shooting the rest when it has softened again. 

midday sun 

When it comes to outdoor shoots, most people without experience are hoping for great sunshine, but what they don’t know is: the plain (midday) sunlight is what scares many photographers most! Anyway, that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to use it. When the sun is highest, the light doesn’t undergo refraction as much as when it’s entering the atmosphere diagonally, which means that we are dealing with very parallel light waves that produce hard shadows and high contrasts. I dare say, it’s not the worst thing in the world, especially, when you use this effect as a stylistic device to e.g. create a story with super-summerly vibes. But it’s a fact that we’re talking about a light situation which is sometimes hard to handle and not always flattering the model or clothes. Still, there are solutions to this, of course. One of which is moving the whole set into the shade where there’s ambient light and softer shadows if your location offers this possibility. Other solutions are to brighten the shadows on the model or to simply shield the light and create your own shaded set, both possible with the very same thing: one or more reflectors – or in case you want to spend more money, you can also use portable flashlights outdoors to fill the shadows. A little more elegant, in my opinion, is to just soften the light by using a diffuser, which is a white scrim that allows the light to pass through while losing its harshness.

Your photographer using only diffusers and reflectors might look a little simple at first sight, but it’s a very effective way of working out your photos when there’s no cloud in the sky. So, you can put your mind at rest and plan your shoot for the whole day, even if the weather is great.

cloudy days 

After reading the last paragraph, you can imagine that cloudy days aren’t as bad as you might have thought before. On the contrary, a sky filled with clouds is working as a huge natural diffuser, ergo it’s creating a very soft and beautiful light. From my personal point of view, it’s the best light situation that you can get, provided that it’s not raining at the same time. Cloudy weather has another side benefit namely that it’s possibly a little bit windy. This means in plain English that you are getting a softbox and a wind machine for free! The model’s moving hair can have a huge positive impact on the images because they immediately look more dynamic and therefore less staged. So consider yourself lucky when it’s cloudy on your shooting day. 

ambient light

Ambient light refers to the light that you can find in the shades or close to a window when the sun isn’t shining at that spot directly. It’s a softened version of daylight because it’s being bounced back from different directions, so you get soft shadows on the model and clothes, however, the images look a little less saturated and crisp. To increase the skin’s and fabrics’ glow here it’s possible to use reflectors close to the model as well. As for the saturation, I dare say, it’s not a big deal, because most images need to get desaturated in post-production anyway. Just take note of the fact that when you shoot in different light situations outdoors, the images’ moods will slightly differ – but that in fact is what an outdoor story is subsisting on, right?

golden hour

Golden hours are short periods of time in the mornings and evenings, right after sunrise and just before sunset. Unsurprisingly, you will find loads of articles and videos on the internet telling you, that this is a great time to shoot outdoors because the blushing sun that’s filling the sky with a spectrum of colours and producing long shadows is clearly offering a romantic scenery. However, when it’s about shooting fashion, it’s necessary to stay down to earth and have in mind, that we can just shoot very few images during this time of day. You should also ask yourself if you really want any vivid-yellow images to be part of your campaign because the colours of your products will be falsified for sure, namely so much that post-production can’t fix it. If you are rather looking for a great evening feeling to show to your customers, because it suits your product, there is no reason not to do it. But when you prefer to highlight your fashion like in a lookbook, you should rather back off from working with golden light and consider this time for a nice after-work get-together with your team.

blue hour

The so-called blue hour occurs before and after the golden hour, more precisely when the sun hasn’t risen yet resp. when it has vanished behind the horizon. The sky then appears in a different blue than during the daytime, because the remaining scattered light is dominated by the blue light spectrum. Although it’s an exciting time of day to shoot landscapes or architecture and using longer exposure times, when it comes to fashion or people photography in general, there’s on no account enough natural light left to work with. We are in fact dealing with night photography during the blue hour, meaning that we need to add our own artificial light or at least find some existing light sources, e.g. street lamps, illuminated shop windows, etc. 

What do we need for shooting outdoors with natural light?

The good news is: not much! Shooting with natural light is pretty economic unless you’re spending a fortune on other things like props, etc. Like on a studio set, the photographer will probably need one or more assistants who help him or her to carry around the equipment, to hold reflectors and diffusers and to keep in sight all the stuff so nothing’s in the way or getting lost (or stolen). When you’re using a big scrim to shoot in the plain midday sun, that’s the biggest and heaviest gear to bring photography-wise. However, there are other aspects to regard when shooting open-air, which you are welcome to reread in my tip no. 4. If you’ve taken care of all those points, all you need is a little luck, that is to say, a rainless day with a few nice clouds in the sky. Fingers crossed!

Conclusion

You’ve now learned a lot about daylight and it’s potentials. Although it can be varying a lot and it’s a little risky to plan a shoot outdoors when you never know in advance what the weather will be like, many great campaigns are being photographed with natural light and mostly on outdoor locations. This is aggravated by the fact that collections are getting shot contra cyclical, which means that we need a summerly light in winter and possibly the other way around in summer. Therefore, during winter many productions are happening in warmer places, like e.g. at the Caribbean or in South Africa. If that’s not in your budget, having a plan B or being flexible about the date of the shoot can offer you a certain security for the case that it’s raining or worse. From my point of view, shooting with daylight is totally worth it to take the risk. But to perfect your knowledge about light, the next article will treat all about flashlights.

Epilogue

If you enjoyed reading this article, or you found it helpful in one way or the other, I would love to know (reach out)! You are also welcome to support my work and writing by donating whichever amount this is worth to you. I will thank you with lots of telepathic love and more interesting journal entries. Cheers!