Pros and Cons: Natural light vs. studio
Written by: Tiffany Joyce
In my previous post I created a poll to find out which type of setting Beyond Megapixels readers prefer, natural light or using a flash set-up in a studio. If you haven’t taken the poll yet, please do so!
As of the time of this entry there is an overwhelming 82% who say that, like me, they prefer to use natural light in their photography and that’s not a huge surprise to me. Today I’d like to contrast the two, giving you some of the pros and cons for each type of photography.
Pros of using natural light:
- It’s free. I think that’s probably the biggest factor for many people. While a studio and a proper set-up with fancy flashes and reflectors and whatnot can create a super professional look, it can be very costly. Natural light is free. You walk outside or open the curtains and there it is. It’s hard to argue with free.
- It’s accessible. Along the same lines, natural light is something that pretty much anyone has access to. If you don’t own your own studio or work in one, you’ll have to make arrangements to rent a space as well as buying or renting all the equipment that goes with it. There’s less effort involved with natural light.
- It’s spontaneous. If you look out your window and realize that the light is just right for photographing your kids or the tree on the corner or whatever makes you happy, you can grab your camera and go. Working in a studio setting requires a bit more scheduling.
- There’s little to no learning curve. As long as you’ve got a basic handle on your camera and how to use it, there’s not much that you need to figure out when it comes to shooting outdoors or inside next to a window with soft natural light filtering through. On the other hand, it can be quite overwhelming to figure out flash settings, positioning of reflectors, how to trigger off-camera flashes, and so on. It can be fun to learn but you have to make the time.
- You’re limited only by your imagination. A studio is a studio. You can use backdrops and props, but you’re limited to a point as to what you can do. Shooting in natural light means your location can be pretty much anywhere. You can take photos of someone in a park, by a lake, on train tracks, or on top of a mountain. If you can get there and it’s legal to be there, you can shoot there.
- Natural light is beautiful. Obviously this last one is subjective, and I’m biased because I do prefer natural light. However, that’s one of the most common reasons many people do prefer natural light for their photography. I find the warm tones are just much more striking than the light in a studio. I’ve taken countless pictures of my kids outside in incredible light at the “magic hour” and I’ve photographed one of my daughters in a studio. While the studio photos look very professional, I still prefer the natural light shots by a mile.
Pros of using studio lighting:
- It’s suitable 24 hours a day. The biggest problem with natural light is that much of the day it will be too harsh for really striking shots. You really need to photograph people and many other subjects in the early morning or the late afternoon when the sun isn’t too high overhead. Meanwhile, you can book a studio shoot at high noon and it won’t make any difference.
- It’s available regardless of the weather. If you have plans to go shoot photos of someone in a beautiful open field, your day will go down in flames if you wake up to pouring rain. On the other hand if you’re using flashes in the studio, the weather has no impact on what you’re shooting.
- It offers a lot of control. Outdoors you’ll have to figure out the logistics of positioning your subject depending on the angle of the sun, the available shade, and so on. Indoors you can position your subject precisely and you can control exactly how much light shines down on them (or across from them, behind them, etc.). You can control things like bouncing light off a wall or a reflector, and you can filter the lights as well. Studio shoots offer complete control over every little detail.
- No time limits. As long as no one has anywhere else to be, there are no real time limits when you’re shooting in a studio. If you’re outside taking photos during the evening magic hour, you only have so much time before you lose the light altogether and it gets dark. This isn’t a factor at all when you’re inside with artificial light.
- Privacy. If you’re doing a shoot involving nudity or someone who is very shy, a studio can offer some privacy that will allow your subject to loosen up. Shooting in a public place outdoors means the possibility of bystanders and that can bother some people.
What are some of your pros and cons regarding the differences between shooting in a studio versus outside in natural light?
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