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How to Take the Perfect Portrait Using Natural Light

I love natural light. I would shoot exclusively with natural light if these dark and dreary Canadian winters would allow it. There are times when I’m forced to pull out my studio lights and brighten a scene, even though I’d rather not. I’m one of those photographers lucky enough to have a nine-foot window in my studio which never receives direct sunlight. I take advantage of this feature every chance I get. And because I love window light so much, I want to share some of my best natural light photography tips with you. Once you learn the ropes, I think you’ll appreciate window light just as much as I do!

Let’s take a closer look at natural light and why it works so well for portraits.

Natural light produces beautiful skin tones and gorgeous catchlights in the eyes of my clients. It also keeps colors vibrant. Another benefit is, I rarely need to adjust the white balance or enhance the vibrancy of my images in Lightroom. If you’re looking to create portraits that have a relaxed and natural feel, using natural light is the way to go.

As an added bonus, natural light is cost-effective and easy to set up. You’ll need a camera, a tripod, a few different reflectors, a homemade v-flat, and some appealing backdrops. When combined, these simple ingredients will create beautiful, memorable images everyone will stop to admire.


The second item I consider essential to natural light portraiture is the use of a V-flat. Quite simply, a V-flat is a full-body reflector that stands on its own in a slightly folded v-shape.

Photographers typically make their v-flats out of large pieces of foam core. One side of the v-flat should be black and the other white. For less than $75 you can create one of the essential tools for portrait photography. Simply use heavy-duty tape to attach two pieces of white foam core together, then paint one side black to create your folding reflector.

The V-flat lets you control the way the light highlights the face of your model. You can shape light by positioning the v-flat closer to or farther away from your subject. A V-flat also allows you to take away light. By using the black side of your v-flat you create deep and dramatic shadows in portraits.  It’s a simple tool that will allow a lot of creative opportunities.

Set Up Is Easy!

Once you’ve got everything, there are two other important considerations to make when setting up a location for the shoot, both involving how to use the window for lighting.

One option is to set up your studio so the light hits your backdrop at a 90-degree angle. This way, the light flows across the features of your model. One side of their face will be brightly lit and the other will have deeper shadows.

The second setup is arranged parallel to your window so the model’s face is fully exposed to the window light. The light will spread evenly across his or her entire face.