Natural vs Artificial Light: Which Do You Shoot With Most? - Digital Photography School

Natural vs Artificial Light: Which Do You Shoot With Most?

Here at dPS we’re getting ready to release a brand new eBook next week. The topic is one that we’ve been asked to cover for years now – ‘Natural Light‘.

One of the things that attracted me to the topic is that natural light is something that is freely available to all photographers (at least all who are not working the night shift or living near the north or south poles at certain times of the year).

We’ll talk more about natural light in the coming week but I thought it might be interesting to have some discussion around how many of the images we take primarily use natural vs artificial light?

As I scan through my own recent collection of images in Lightroom I’d estimate that around 85% of them are 100% natural light. Another 10% would be a mix of artificial and natural (the artificial mainly coming from normal house lights that happen to be on when I’m shooting) and that only around 5% would be lit completely with artificial light (for me a speed light).

What about you?

Are you using natural or artificial light primarily? Or is it a mix of both.

I’m looking forward to hearing your experience!

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • http://DUPREIMAGE.COM Bob DuPre’

    I have been shooting about half and half but I just bought a set of Novatrons so I am planning to do more more studio work

  • http://speedlighter.blogspot.com michael anthony murphy

    I tend to shoot mixed. I lean towards shooting clients with strobes. When hitting the streets, doing some random street photography, I rarely bring lights. hmmm. Not sure what the ratio would be.

  • Martin
  • http://www.writerphobic.wordpress.com Safa

    I have been busy with both. But I love natural light more than artificial as the outcome is better. Im still struggling with my tungsten and yellow light photographs for some reason. I would shoot in natural light any day.

  • Arsalan

    i use natural light like 95 percent of the time. i just find that artificial light doesnt suit my style of shooting and therefore i find my pictures will turn out much better the natural light available. But the only problem is the sometimes it need a little help with a flash or something because the area im shooting in.

  • Steve Nash

    I really like using natural light..I do use a external flash when it is a last resort..Often I will use natural light then a external flash for the same shot…I have found that once i do post production in Lightroom the photo with the natural light is the one i will eventually choose to be filed. A reflecter is part of my bag.

  • http://arkansaswildlifephotography.com Michael Dougherty

    Natural only. I am a wildlife photographer in the Buffalo National River region.

    In part it is natural because it is just the only choice for my for my favorite subject, Arkansas Elk.

    Beyond that I love to take pictures of wildflowers in filtered light and in morning light. I suppose a very subtle flash might work here and there, but post is so strong now we can do “fill light” there.

    My website is designed to inform photographers who might consider visiting the Buffalo National River in Arkansas. It is becoming a photographer hot spot although it is largely unknown. It is 2 tanks of gas from almost 20% of the US population. Been voted in the top ten of national parks everyone must see, and nobody knows about.

    A comprehensive site for visitors is http://buffaloriverchamber.com. There are topo maps for the whole river there and extensive guides to things to do.

    Michael Dougherty, Ponca Wilderness
    Buffalo National River

  • http://www.how-to-sell-photos-online.co.uk Catherine

    I definitely prefer natural light but would be happy to learn artificial light if I had a decent lighting set up !

  • Juan

    Natural all the time. I’ve got no light set, just a 580 EX II which I’ve used mounted on the hotshoe for some events and family meetings.

  • Mort Metersky

    I have always used natural light. I do not have a studio. When I do portraits it is always outdoors. Not only is it cheaper but it is always available wherever I am. It’s going to be interesting when I travel to Iceland in July where the light is 24/7 though it does get dimmer during the night. I’ll get to try my hand held photography without a tripod (I never use one) in dim light. My Nikon D90 should be able to handle that. I also shoot between 10 and 2 even in the so called bad light, though not landscapes. There is always a way to get a good image if you use a little imagination.

  • Valerie

    Natural light, hands down. Of course, I do shoot with artificial lighting, but it’s not my preference. And as for the flash, I very rarely use it.

  • Lahari Gowda

    i use and look for natural light more. i find it very difficult to get good clicks with artificial light unless there are lots of thm

Some older comments

  • Lahari Gowda

    April 26, 2012 07:45 pm

    i use and look for natural light more. i find it very difficult to get good clicks with artificial light unless there are lots of thm

  • Valerie

    April 24, 2012 07:08 am

    Natural light, hands down. Of course, I do shoot with artificial lighting, but it's not my preference. And as for the flash, I very rarely use it.

  • Mort Metersky

    April 22, 2012 07:33 am

    I have always used natural light. I do not have a studio. When I do portraits it is always outdoors. Not only is it cheaper but it is always available wherever I am. It's going to be interesting when I travel to Iceland in July where the light is 24/7 though it does get dimmer during the night. I'll get to try my hand held photography without a tripod (I never use one) in dim light. My Nikon D90 should be able to handle that. I also shoot between 10 and 2 even in the so called bad light, though not landscapes. There is always a way to get a good image if you use a little imagination.

  • Juan

    April 21, 2012 11:40 am

    Natural all the time. I've got no light set, just a 580 EX II which I've used mounted on the hotshoe for some events and family meetings.

  • Catherine

    April 20, 2012 06:18 pm

    I definitely prefer natural light but would be happy to learn artificial light if I had a decent lighting set up !

  • Michael Dougherty

    April 20, 2012 03:18 am

    Natural only. I am a wildlife photographer in the Buffalo National River region.

    In part it is natural because it is just the only choice for my for my favorite subject, Arkansas Elk.

    Beyond that I love to take pictures of wildflowers in filtered light and in morning light. I suppose a very subtle flash might work here and there, but post is so strong now we can do "fill light" there.

    My website is designed to inform photographers who might consider visiting the Buffalo National River in Arkansas. It is becoming a photographer hot spot although it is largely unknown. It is 2 tanks of gas from almost 20% of the US population. Been voted in the top ten of national parks everyone must see, and nobody knows about.

    A comprehensive site for visitors is http://buffaloriverchamber.com. There are topo maps for the whole river there and extensive guides to things to do.

    Michael Dougherty, Ponca Wilderness
    Buffalo National River

  • Steve Nash

    April 20, 2012 02:26 am

    I really like using natural light..I do use a external flash when it is a last resort..Often I will use natural light then a external flash for the same shot...I have found that once i do post production in Lightroom the photo with the natural light is the one i will eventually choose to be filed. A reflecter is part of my bag.

  • Arsalan

    April 20, 2012 02:21 am

    i use natural light like 95 percent of the time. i just find that artificial light doesnt suit my style of shooting and therefore i find my pictures will turn out much better the natural light available. But the only problem is the sometimes it need a little help with a flash or something because the area im shooting in.

  • Safa

    April 20, 2012 02:03 am

    I have been busy with both. But I love natural light more than artificial as the outcome is better. Im still struggling with my tungsten and yellow light photographs for some reason. I would shoot in natural light any day.

  • Martin

    April 19, 2012 10:55 pm

  • michael anthony murphy

    April 19, 2012 10:27 pm

    I tend to shoot mixed. I lean towards shooting clients with strobes. When hitting the streets, doing some random street photography, I rarely bring lights. hmmm. Not sure what the ratio would be.

  • Bob DuPre'

    April 19, 2012 07:54 pm

    I have been shooting about half and half but I just bought a set of Novatrons so I am planning to do more more studio work

  • Nabruneau

    April 19, 2012 05:03 pm

    I probably shoot 50/50 but the best shots are always in natural light. I guess I just get board of adjusting and playing with lights or distracted by them.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/nickneeds/5983874801/in/photostream

  • Jai Catalano

    April 19, 2012 06:43 am

    I shoot westcott speedlites. Great way to have constant light.

  • David

    April 19, 2012 06:22 am

    Natural, too lazy to set up Flash and other lights

  • Roxanne

    April 19, 2012 06:20 am

    I mainly shoot nature and food, so natural lighting is my preference. I absolutely love to shoot outside during those brief golden hours. When it comes to artificial lighting, I'm still a beginner, but I do own some lighting equipment and I hope to have my own mini home studio someday.

  • Gary Paakkonen

    April 19, 2012 06:07 am

    I am about 50/50 but I do prefer natural light and use it as much as possible

  • A.Barlow

    April 19, 2012 02:55 am

    natural light almost always. Sometimes I use a bit of fill when needed, I think the natural light adds a special kind of in the moment feel to the shots. None of them look the same save for a certain "style". It works.

  • Bob

    April 19, 2012 02:45 am

    Most of my photos are of local bands, so most of my shots are in artificial light, sometimes almost NO light. On those few occasions I've been to an outdoor gig, the pictures have been MUCH better.

  • David

    April 19, 2012 02:07 am

    I shoot w/o flash. If I'm shooting indoors there may be lights on, but not to stage what I shoot. I try to capture the feel of what I see directly. I also primarily shoot outdoors urban and nature landscapes. I suppose if I did more intentional portrait shots I would want some flashes, but as I don't I only use existing light. Be it nature provided or Edison derived.

  • Richard

    April 19, 2012 01:52 am

    I tend to use natural light more often than flash. I am thinking of using fill in flash.

  • JAMES

    April 19, 2012 01:21 am

    I used to use mostly natural light until I began to explore Strobist way of photography. Since then I have been shooting mostly with off camera strobes/speedlight. Every now and then I when shooting outdoor portraits I try to get some shots using natural lights but when I show clients the pictures they almost always pick the ones that were taken using off camera strobes. I just feel like strobist style images have some kind of dramatic feel to them. I understand that some photogs still prefer using natural light but it is wrong to say that using speedlight makes images unnatural, in strobist photographers mind they enhance the end result of the pictures.

  • hubblefromthesun

    April 19, 2012 12:10 am

    I mostly shoot in natural light but I am getting ready to try out some artificial once it is summer.

  • Dave Quail

    April 18, 2012 11:28 pm

    Natural Light always when possible. Flash only when absolutely necessary.

  • Michael

    April 18, 2012 10:49 pm

    You need to shoot with whatever kind of light best suits the shot and / or effect your trying achieve. Why avoid flash when it can create amazing shots? I don't get it. If you don't have the skills, learn them rather than limiting yourself and expand your photography.

  • Aparna

    April 18, 2012 10:42 pm

    Living in India means that I hardly ever shoot in anything but natural light. With the monsoons approaching in a month's time, I'm planning to experiment with artificial lighting, finally! :)

  • Stephen

    April 18, 2012 09:45 pm

    I use mostly natural light, but have been adding more flash to my photos lately.

  • Paul

    April 18, 2012 09:35 pm

    Natural light seems ideal for me. I tried to use diffused artificial light, but turned to natural light again. I think is almost possible to exclusively use natural light. But I admit that I also played with video lights and bounced on/off camera flashes and made some pictures that wouldn't have been otherwise possible. I'd say 90% for natural and the rest for the rest. Natural usually means uncontrolled. A distinction can be made between 'existing' and 'natural', but that will complicate the issue a little...

  • Stefano

    April 18, 2012 09:33 pm

    I like natural light.
    Even in low light I prefer long exposures than artificial (flash) light. I often ask my subjects not to move for a second.
    In indoor shooting of course light is artificial, but I always like to avoid flash.
    Here's my son at the bowling:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/50259324@N08/5217604135/in/set-72157625492938386

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/50259324@N08/5217604621/in/set-72157625492938386

  • K

    April 18, 2012 08:46 pm

    I generally take photographs in natural light. I particularly like doing low light photography and astrophotography. Although astrophotography can require very long exposures and in one image you can have examples of natural light (galaxies, nebulae, moon etc) and artificial light (such as light pollution).

  • Tom

    April 18, 2012 07:00 pm

    I use mainly natural light for sports but dependant on the situation a mix of flash and natural.

  • ccting

    April 18, 2012 06:57 pm

    I think we should diverse the lighting strategies
    a) Indoor available light when flashes / strobes are not allowed / convenient
    b) Indoor flash when strobes is not too troublesome especially for running babies
    c) Indoor strobist when target subject is more static
    d) Outdoor available light when subject is too far
    e) Outdoor flash to reduce over-contrast scene, particularly outdoor portrait when strobist is not convenient
    f) outdoor strobist when you have lots of time..and convenient.

    The artificial lighting should add the natural lighting whenever possible ...

    IMO

  • Steve

    April 18, 2012 05:53 pm

    Give me natural light anytime.
    You cannot beat the lighting provided by nature and there is such a variation to give you plenty of scope:

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Scenes-of-Spain-The-Costas/G0000Qp9QOeUBwDA/I0000zSD4xT9VW.w

  • Dev

    April 18, 2012 05:35 pm

    I prefer Day light and specifically Morning time.

  • gipukan (Rob Gipman)

    April 18, 2012 04:59 pm

    I prefer natural light over flash/strobe/led.

    While living in Africa I never used my flash. There on the equator is always enough light!

    Back in the Netherlands now I'm considering more flash use and led panel use as most days here are dark and grim.

    One advantage I do have is a nice 2 window room that gets whatever sunlight is there through either one of the windows during the day. In there I'm going to play with 2 led panels soon to see if I can get a nice mix of both before I'm going into more "professional" photo.

  • Elizabeth

    April 18, 2012 03:48 pm

    I love natural light.
    I think I have only used my flash on my Cannon EOS Rebel T3I 5 times in the last 4 months!

    http://funmommie.blogspot.com/2012/04/photography.html

  • Randomjack

    April 18, 2012 03:28 pm

    I use a great deal of natural light. Mind, it makes sense as up to now I've focused on landscapes and the like.

    However, I'll soon be getting a strobist kit, and this is where I'll really find out what my preferences are. The ability to use artificial light without it looking like deer in the headlights will make a big difference for me, I expect. The customization and extra control will probably drive me to use flash, and do portraits, much more often.

  • Mridula

    April 18, 2012 02:37 pm

    Natural light as apart from my camera flash and room lights I have nothing to shoot with!

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2011/07/some-images-from-heysham-uk.html

  • Ryan Vibal

    April 18, 2012 02:03 pm

    for me both is a great , natural and artificial .. its all about the quality of light being produced either natural or artificial as it will impact the photo output in the en.

  • Ann

    April 18, 2012 01:51 pm

    I much prefer using available light - I think the color is more natural and I like the challenge.

    I just recently learned how to use studio lighting and pocket wizards and I just don't like the look of it yet. So natural light is the way I go...

  • JohnP

    April 18, 2012 12:40 pm

    Probably 75% natural light; 15% flash fill light in bright conditions and 10% flash only. I would prefer to always use natural or non-flash light but need a camera with better ISO to achieve that.

  • raghavendra

    April 18, 2012 12:35 pm

    Natural light indeed. When you use artificial light then everything becomes artificial.
    I have taken a picture of colors of nature.

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/2012/01/colors-of-nature.html

  • James Taylor

    April 18, 2012 12:28 pm

    I'm an urban explorer. I always use natural light. I am not against artificial light but I just don't use it.

  • Jeff E Jensen

    April 18, 2012 12:15 pm

    Boy, that's a tough question. I guess it depends on what I am shooting. I do a lot of light painting and that's artificial light. I have also been playing around with a lot of high speed stuff, so again, artificial light. Natural light comes in with landscape, wildlife, macro, etc. I guess it's a pretty good mix of both.

    Here's a time lapse I shot recently that is all natural light:
    http://blog.jeffejensenphotography.com/2012/04/stars-over-kolob.html

    And, here's some artificial light:
    http://blog.jeffejensenphotography.com/2012/04/light-painting-in-zion.html

  • Average Joe

    April 18, 2012 11:09 am

    I like shooting outdoors mostly, but if I'm not, I'll either use my big ol' external flash, or just go with whatever light I have. It really depends on the look I'm going for.
    But when I'm outside photographing people in specific, I usually like to use my reflector if it's handy. Very useful.

  • Mei Teng

    April 18, 2012 10:26 am

    Natural light most of the time.

  • Doug Sundseth

    April 18, 2012 10:13 am

    I shoot 100% available light, since I've found that shooting with unavailable light is a bit difficult. I never ask my photos where they've been before I use them. It's kind of rude, don't you think? 8-)

  • Brad Hayami

    April 18, 2012 10:12 am

    Its totally untrue that you can only get great natural light shots during "a very small window of shooting time on any given day." This discounts the facts that (a) you can always shoot in the shade, (b) you can capture some dramatic backlit shots even when the sun is fairly high, (c) you can shoot inside with the light from a window during all sorts of times in the day. Not to say that artificial light isn't useful and amazing - I'm sure it is and I need to learn - but natutral light conditions aren't as limiting as some seem to be suggesting.

  • Alicia

    April 18, 2012 09:53 am

    What a toss up! I use a 6x6' window in my studio for newborns because I am a firm believer that they can be shot with nothing else but I use my 3'x6' softbox on a strobe for children because of the beautiful catchlight it creates and that it creates such beautiful shadows. Babies I mix it up depending on the baby and the look I'm going for. Tough choice!

  • Richard Taylor

    April 18, 2012 09:23 am

    Avaialble light for 99% of my pics.
    Daylight would be for 90% and after dark or indoors the other 9%

  • AnnaRaine

    April 18, 2012 08:37 am

    natural-
    whenever i do portraits i normally do them outside or in a bright hall way (the light in which coming from a giant window)
    self portraits - just open up my blinds and let the sun come in

    though i do want some special lighting.. just don't have the money for it yet

  • Jeff

    April 18, 2012 08:18 am

    I prefer natural light, and will try my hardest to avoid using flash. And never the built-in flash.

    http://flic.kr/p/brAWbp

  • Dewan Demmer

    April 18, 2012 07:46 am

    Until recently I would have said that 90% of my photos were from natural light, but that is changing. Recently I started working with off camera flash and not only in low light but also in full sunlight. There is a trick to it and I am certainly working to perfect the trick but I am getting some amazing results. The added light just adds a little something.

    Here are 2 sets of example of off camera lighting, just because I am loving it that much. Oh I would say in about a year I will be aout 50/50.
    www.dewandemmer.com/portfolio-photoshoot-at-autumn-leaves-farm/
    http://www.dewandemmer.com/prelude-bridal-photoshoot-johannesburg/

  • Briana

    April 18, 2012 07:39 am

    I never use a flash, built-in or otherwise. In fact my photoblog features images taken strictly with available light. I do have a set of strobes and backdrops at work that I've used on occasion to get a plant in a clean environment, but that's rare. Call me lazy, but I find flashes to be too much of a hassle. Then again, maybe I just haven't mastered the technique as @Jason mentioned.

    Now I do utilize artificial light in the terms of indoor lighting paired with my 50mm f/1:8 Nikkor lens. I shot a worship concert in October for my church and had some trouble getting crisp images while adhering to the no flash policy with my 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Nikkor, so I quickly purchased the prime lens.

    Plus I enjoy the ability to capture images discreetly. It never fails. The second a flash goes off, everyone runs the other way.

  • ElectraMag

    April 18, 2012 07:38 am

    Natural light... but that's mostly because I haven't learned to harness artificial light.

  • Abu Tilghman

    April 18, 2012 07:36 am

    I definately perfer natural light, even during evening outdoor shoots I find myself keeping the aperture wide open and using moonlight before resulting to flash. I would estimate the ratio to be 90% to 10% in favor of natural light.

  • James

    April 18, 2012 07:18 am

    If I can get past my irrational fear and go outside, I shoot natural light: landscapes, flowers, bees, squirrels, the occasional person if I get up the nerve, etc.

    For those days where the fear wins, I shoot artificial light: a mix of tungsten, led, and strobe, mostly macro, often with very long exposures (especially if I'm not using strobe.

    I'm on day 111 of a 365 project, and I've shot 80 of them indoors. About 10 of those were made with exclusively natural light (whatever was coming through the windows), and the rest were made with a mix of tungsten, LED, and off-camera flash.

    So of the 111 365 shots I've made, 70—roughly 63%—were made with artificial light.

    But that's just 111 of the 7770 pictures I've made in 2012...

    I bet I'm about 60% natural light overall, but it depends on what I'm shooting.

  • Scottc

    April 18, 2012 07:11 am

    Mostly natural, but I really like shooting a night in artificial light.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/sets/72157626340375625/

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer

    April 18, 2012 06:42 am

    I shoot 98% using strobes, I will not refer to them as using artificial light as the article does. I shoot exclusively on location, often outdoors, so natural light is in pretty much every shot as well. However, I wonder what subject matter photographers who only shoot using natural light or mostly natural are shooting? People? Landscapes? Architecture? Relying on natural light means a very, very small window of shooting time on any given day.

    Plus, there are just shots that are impossible to make without using strobes/speedlights, like these shots I made for a recent model portfolio shoot:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2012/4/16/model-portfolio-shoot-in-vinoy-park-st-petersburg-at-sunset.html

    Forget about shooting against the sunset with only natural light, forget about shooting during dusk/twilight for the most part as well.

    Last thought, those that shoot only natural light, have you also mastered off camera flash/strobist shooting and still prefer to shoot natural light?

  • Ab Sier

    April 18, 2012 06:37 am

    Normally I always used natural light and did so for more then 25 years. The changes in photography, caused by the digital revolution, forced me the change the way I work as a professional photographer to keep the distinction between pro and amateur. Since a few years more I use artificial light to create distinctive images, aided by the advantages of the new techniques of compact flash.

  • Charlie

    April 18, 2012 06:36 am

    Almost entirely natural light with the occasional mix of natural and external flash.

    If I had an extra room or garage at my house I would most likely use more artificial light. Having a home studio would be sweet!

  • Amanda K

    April 18, 2012 06:30 am

    I heavily prefer natural light, so much so, the internal flash broke on my DSLR more than 6 months ago, and I haven't bothered to repair it. I'll use my external flash for events though.

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