6 Reasons to Master Natural Light Before Flash
Today I’m talking about natural light and why I believe you really MUST become confident working with it before learning about flash photography. Flash is fabulous and good flash photographers are geniuses, they really are! But you can bet they understood natural light well in order to become so skilled with a flash. That’s the subject for today’s episode.
First though, I sent a quick email out on Thursday asking you a question. Did you get it? If you are not on my email list then you would not have received it, of course. But if you would like to be then you can sign up right here.
In my email I asked you which of these you wanted to learn more about; using lightroom, using photoshop, photographing children or mastering natural light.
I asked you this because I am working on my next premium course for you guys. It’s been a couple of months since I launched the manual exposure masterclass and I want to make sure I have something new and exciting for you to get your teeth into every few months. I had actually started work on a Lightroom course for beginners and it suddenly hit me that I was presuming to know what you actually want – I hadn’t actually asked! That’s when I decided to just reach out and ask the question.
Well I was REALLY glad I asked! Some of you did want to learn more about lightroom, however, an overwhelming majority of you told me that, above everything else, you want to learn how to master natural light! Lightroom was the least popular choice!
I was working on the wrong course.
Honestly though, I was delighted to get this result. Natural light is my ‘thing’. It is what I love to use in my photography and it is what I love to teach. I am so happy that it is the one thing you guys want to learn more about.
So work has started in earnest on the ‘Master Natural Light’ course. I have planned it all out and filming starts tomorrow (this course is going to be a video course – it just has to be visual, this one!) I am so excited about it. I am going to let you see exactly what I do with all sorts of natural light both indoors and outdoors and I am going to help you take your photography to a whole new level, even with entry-level gear. That is all you will need for this.
I have, just this morning, opened up a VIP list ahead of the natural light course. If you are on the VIP list you will get preview access to the first video in the course absolutely FREE of charge so you can try it out for size. You will also, of course, hear all of the details first. If you would like to join the VIP list simply click here to sign up.
But why should you learn to master natural light before moving into the world of flash photography?
What is the harm in doing a bit of both right from the beginning? Variety is the spice of life after all! Well I truly believe you actually can hinder your journey by moving towards flash too quickly. I have seen it happen. It is just my opinion so feel free to disagree after hearing everything I have to say – I am always up for a nice, healthy debate!
I have the utmost respect for skilled flash photographers. It is not something I am knowledgeable about at all. This year I am determined to progress my flash photography and I am really looking forward to getting to grips with it more. However, I am also glad that I have really honed my craft in natural light first.
Before I tell you why I think this is so important, I want to make it clear I am not talking about switching your camera to auto and allowing your on-camera flash to pop up. When I say ‘flash photography’ I am talking about additional flash units that you can use both on and off your camera. Flash photographers rarely, if ever, use their on-camera flash. No one wants to nuke their scene with that direct, white light unless they absolutely have to. More about that another time…
Natural light is easier on the bank balance and the back
You don’t need anything but a camera and a lens to begin working with natural light and creating beautiful images. The minute you start getting into flash you need to dip into that pocket of yours to purchase speedlights, stands, softboxes, remote triggers and batteries (and that is a small list…) And let’s not forget about your poor body! Lugging around your own body weight in kit does nothing for the posture you know…
What if you don’t stick with photography? Lots of people don’t, let’s face it. Make sure this is a passion you are going to pursue before buying even more gear! I am constantly encouraging the learners I work with to buy as little as possible to begin with. Get to know each piece of kit really well before adding another item to the list. You won’t regret it.
You have enough to think about in terms of settings
When you are first learning, your head is literally full to bursting with settings and dials and buttons. And that is just on your camera. Try adding more to that! A speedlight comes with its own settings and your camera has to be able to communicate with it.
A confused mind says no.
That is a saying that has always stuck with me. It applies to everything in life. If there is too much on a menu at a restaurant we get stressed about choosing. If a business has too many packages we end up seeking something simpler elsewhere. If you mind becomes overwhelmed it switches off. This is why you should take your photography one step at a time. Make it your goal to learn just one thing before moving on to another. Those who ignore this advice take on too much and end up giving up on their hobby very quickly.
Remember, a confused mind says no!
Natural light encourages you to look and move!
If you are only using natural light then you have no choice but to open your eyes to the environment you are in. You must look around for the light that is going to serve you best. You are forced to examine that light – which direction is it coming from? What colour is it? How strong is it? Is it good enough for what you want to create? How can you manipulate it?
You will also be forced to move around your scene. Magic things happen when you move around. You start seeing other opportunities for photographs. You might end up capturing something that you had no intention of creating when you first started. Every minute you spend walking around looking at light and looking for light is not a minute wasted. It is all part of your light education and I truly believe that learning all about light is a life-long commitment!
Going through this stage will mean that when you do finally embrace the wonder of flash photography you will have a solid grasp of seeing and using light already. Skills in flash will come easy and fast.
Natural light is changeable and challenging!
Sure, flash photography can be technically challenging to master but nothing challenges you like changeable, natural light. Depending on the weather, your light can change every couple of minutes. You can go from shooting in strong, direct, warm light to flat, diffused, cool light all in the time it takes for the sun to disappear behind a dark cloud!
Embrace challenges like this and watch how fast you will progress! Your brain has to work as fast as that light is changing. Where is the light best now? What can you do with this new light that will enhance your subject? What doesn’t look so good in this light? What looks better in this light? You become adaptable and more creative. You think on your feet and you see things that a photographer, dependent on flash, may not see.
You won’t RELY on your lights
I know photographers who moved to using flash too quickly and without a solid grasp of natural light, and do you know what? Take their speed lights and their studio lights away from them and they are lost! They didn’t spend enough time mastering the wonderful thing that is natural light first and they have become dependent on adding artificial light.
I only think this happens to photographers who were too hasty in moving to flash. I find that they are unable to truly ‘see’ natural light. They ‘think in flash’ and they miss beautiful opportunities. Or they use lots of kit to take a photograph that could have been recreated easily with natural light if only they had looked around a little and thought differently.
Become skilled with natural light first and you will ACE it with flash
You might be fooled into thinking that I am scornful of flash after that list but that couldn’t be further from the truth! I know and follow lots of photographers who work wonders with flash. Honestly I can only drop my jaw in awe at the work they produce. I am not skilled with flash but I do have a speedlight which I use off-camera now and again and I also use an LED lamp to add subltle light to scenes, especially in my boudoir photography.
Because sometimes natural light just won’t do, no matter how skilled you are with it! Wedding photographers, for example, absolutely must have knowledge and understanding of flash photography. They might turn up to a dark venue on a dark day and let’s face it, if they don’t have decent flash kit and some good flash skills then there is going to be one very disappointed bride later on when she casts her eye upon all of those dark, grainy and blurry images!
Flash isn’t just for when there isn’t enough natural light though. It is often used for sheer creativity. Using flash can make a scene look nothing at all like it does in real life. It can take a scene from average to phenomenal in the right hands.
So yes, get to grips with flash if you want to.
Just make sure you make it happen with natural light first. You will find the learning process much easier, quicker and smoother if you do. Once you understand natural light, you understand any type of light. The hard part is over. You will also always be able to move between both with ease. You will know when to make use of beautiful, natural light and you will know what to do when it isn’t enough.
So there you have it – these are all the reasons why I think you should pursue a sound grasp of natural light before playing with flash. But what do you think? Let me know in the comments or on social media. You know I always appreciate hearing from you!