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8 Mistakes to Avoid When Photographing in Natural Light

Shooting attractive portraits in natural light is not as easy as it seems
Photo of natural light portraits

Shooting portraits in natural light seems like a no-brainer, right? Just place your subject in some pretty sunlight and fire away with your camera.

Except, it’s not that simple. In fact, you could be making quite a few natural light photography mistakes, which may result in unflattering portraits. In the below tutorial, pro photographer Omar Gonzalez shares the “biggest mistakes new photographers make when shooting portraits in natural light.”

“Natural light portrait photography is probably the easiest photography to do,” Gonzalez says. “Most of us start with natural light portraits but we make some mistakes.”

Watch the video at the bottom of this post where he explains these natural light mistakes and shows you how to do things the right way when shooting portraits.

#1 Not Assessing the Light

“I think when we all first start out, we see our subject more than we see the light,” he explains. “A lot of my early portraits, sometimes there wasn’t any light. Sometimes the light was coming from behind, from the side. I noticed that there was no pattern, so I wasn’t really even seeing the light.”

#2 Misjudging the Direction of Light

“After a while, you start to see the light but you’re not using the best light in the environment. A good trick is to use your hands and move them around and see where your hands light up.”


#3 Raccoon Eyes

“One problem I see a lot of new photographers do, and I did, is that when we photograph people, most of the natural light, whether it be an overcast day or you’re in the shade, comes from above. And what happens is we end up getting racoon eyes in our portraits because our brows leave shadows underneath.”

#4 Halloween Lighting

“Sometimes if the light bounces off a very reflective surface like a sidewalk, it will give Halloween lighting. You’ll notice that if you see a catchlight that’s very low in the eyes.”

#5 Over-relying on Shade

“Sometimes we overuse the shade because we’re afraid of the sun. If you are going to shoot in open shade, which I do all the time, I highly recommend using the border between where the sun is hitting and where the shade is. That’s going to be your best light because you’re getting light that’s nice and soft.”


#6 Embrace the Sunlight

“I was so afraid as a natural light photographer of the sun that I was always looking for shade. But what I’ve started doing recently is just using the sun. As long as you have the person’s face not casting extreme shadows then you should be ok.”

#7 Color Casts

“I think a lot of natural light photographers don’t take into consideration that they’re photographing on red brick or that the person’s wearing an orange shirt. The other one’s a bright sunny day and the green hue of grass lighting up the person underneath. That’s really going to affect your skintones.”

#8 No Light

“As a natural light photographer all is good unless, all of a sudden, there’s no light. So, if you’re deep in shadow or you’re in that tunnel and you’re restricted that’s where you need to say, you know what, I’m a natural light photographer but I have lights and I can use lights. Your work will move to the next level is you start using lights sometimes when there’s no light.”


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