Tips + Techniques

Natural Light Photography: How to Find and Shape It Indoors

March 25, 2021

By Andre Brown

© Andre Brown

Photographed on a Canon 1D X Mark II at 31mm, f/4 and 1/200 sec.

As photographers, light is our most important asset. How we create, subtract or shape light is key to producing the images we desire. For wedding photographers in particular, the day of a shoot can be a bit unpredictable, so making time to set up and break down lights can be cumbersome when you are trying to move quickly. Over the years, I’ve come to enjoy the challenge of finding light to create my portraits, and I’ve walked away with natural light photography tips to help you do the same.

[Read: How to Photograph with Only Natural Light Like a True Pro]

All wedding venues don’t naturally lend themselves to producing great photos; most of the time, our job is to make something out of nothing. Some of my most acclaimed images have been the product of finding that one little kiss of light to create images that my clients will enjoy.

[Read: How to Fix Bad Lighting While You’re Photographing a Wedding]

Photographed on a Canon 1D X Mark II at 31mm, f/4 and 1/200 sec. All photos © Andre Brown

I’ve been asked about the image above for the past few years:

“What was the lighting setup?”

“What modifiers did you use?”

“How many lights did you use?”

People are often shocked to hear that this image was only photographed with natural light. My setup was one window in the cellar of the venue that was providing great directional light. I positioned my subjects where I could get the most even distribution across each of them and exposed for the highlights.

[Read: Tips to Shooting Creative Indoor Portraits Using Only Window Light]

I love this photo for the way it pops, the styling of my subjects and the toning, but most importantly because I was successful in challenging myself to make something out of nothing. This has proven to be pivotal as I’d only been a photographer for a short time when this photo was taken.

It’s important to note that for my particular style, the lighting will always be directional, whether it’s Rembrandt lighting or split lighting. I personally enjoy the depth that comes from the contrast of highlights and shadows in an image.  

[Read: 9 Tips for Sculpting Natural and Artificial Light at Weddings]

Photographed on a Canon 5D Mark III at 88mm, f/1.8 and 1/500 sec.

I almost never flat light anything, however I do like backlighting the subject for creative portraits as seen in these next two images.

Photographed on a Canon 1D X Mark II at 24mm, f/4 and 1/200 sec.

When looking for light, my first choice will always be seeking the largest windows I can find. Provided the sun isn’t beaming directly in, they are essential giant softboxes that will provide beautiful soft light on your subjects. With proper exposure, you are able to create stunning images, even in less than flattering rooms. 

Photographed on a Canon 1D X Mark II at 24mm, f/4 and 1/200 sec.

Single subjects are easier to manage, but when you need to you can find some great places to photograph larger groups.

This image was taken inside a small hotel bar. There wasn’t much space to spread everyone out as we did in the first image you saw, but stacking these gentlemen together inside the space—again, with the intent for them to all have ample distribution of light from the small windows reflected in the mirrors on the wall behind them—made for a cool stylized groomsmen photograph. It also eliminated the need for setting up softboxes and toying with settings to capture a shot during the short time that we had. In less than five minutes, they were headed off to the wedding venue.

[Read: Aperture and Depth-of-Field—How to Understand (and Break) the Rules]

Photographed on a Canon 1D X Mark II at 59mm, f/4 and 1/200 sec.

Street photographers are amazing at making something out of nothing. Take some time to research a few on Instagram. I would recommend checking out Kirth Bobb’s work. He was one of the first street photographers I came across when I started my photography journey. He is also a wedding photographer and does a fantastic job of curating creative portraits in unique lighting situations. You may find that implementing a few of those techniques into your wedding and portrait images can be rather fun while sharpening your skills as a photographer to see what the naked eye cannot. 

As you head off to your next wedding or portrait session, I encourage you to think twice before loading up your wagon with an array of lights and modifiers. Take some time to look for great lighting opportunities that may be available to you before setting up those light stands. This will allow you to pack lighter and move a bit quicker as you go through the day. Learning to find natural light will also enable you to better create light when you must.

Andre Brown is a wedding photographer based in Atlanta, GA. He was named a 30 Rising Star of Wedding Photography in 2020.