The sun is the most powerful and most affordable source of light available to you as a video creator. In this guide, you’ll learn different ways to use natural light to light your videos.

What is Natural Light?

For our purposes, natural light is any light that comes from the sun. It’s not artificial or man-made. The benefit of using natural light is that it’s free to use and it’s powerful! The downside is that it’s harder to control than a video lighting kit (see our recommended kits on our Resources page). It’s also not available all of the time.

With camera sensors getting better and better, using the natural light from the moon (reflected from the sun), is becoming a creative option. That being said, you can’t shoot a daytime scene at night without video lights.

Controlling the sun isn’t easy, but it’s possible. And that’s what you’ll want to do to have your videos look great.

Soft Light is Good Light

In most situations, you’ll want to soften your lighting source. This is true even with video lighting kits. With the sun, you can soften the light in a couple of ways – through some kind of filter & by bouncing the light. Clouds are a great source of diffusion that breaks up the light and decreases harsh shadows in your shot.

You can soften light from the sun with large scrims and diffusion such as a curtain. Or you can bounce light from the sun with bounce cards, reflectors, or by creative placement of your subject. Even placing your subject underneath a shaded tree is a form of diffusing light.

Instead of placing the subject with the sun intensely beating on their face, put them in the shade with the sunlight bouncing off a nearby building. If you do have to place the subject directly in sunlight, use a bounce card to add light to their face to fill in any shadows created by the sunlight.

Shooting at Golden Hour

You’ve probably heard the term golden hour before. This is the time (roughly an hour) around sunrise and sunset where the sun’s light is warmer and actually softer. This combination leads to more beautiful lighting according to most. The light is actually being diffused by the landscape of the horizon, breaking up how bright it is which leads to less harsh shadows.

The shadows at golden hour can still be dramatic, and it may seem more contrast-y. But overall, it will be easier to expose an entire scene (or both sides of a person’s face) during golden hour. If you’re not convinced, test it out. Go out at 12pm noon and at sunset. Shoot the same subject in the same location. See which one you like better.

While we love shooting photos and video at golden hour, it inherently has a short timespan for getting the right shot, making it impractical for longer video shoots like interviews.

Using the Sun as a Back Light

Whether you’re shooting at golden hour or during the middle of the day, try using the sun as a back light. By placing your subjects in the frame with the sun lighting the back of their head, you typically get a nice-looking image. Having the sunlight directly in your subject’s face leads not only to squinting, but harsh, contrast-y lighting and bad shadows.

With a back light, your subject will have more even lighting on their face. Plus, the back light separates your subject from the background and gives a nice halo around the subject that also looks great!

Shooting Indoors with a Natural Light

You can also use natural light when shooting videos indoors. Placing your subject next to a window can be a great and free option. Try diffusing light with a curtain to soften it up. In this situation, we recommend not using the window as a back light. Unless you have a brighter source of light exposing the front of your subject, a window back light usually ends up being way over-exposed with a dark subject. So place the subject with the window light as a key light (the main source of light typically shining on the subject’s face).

This is a great option if you’re a DIY video creator shooting in a home office with a webcam. Place your desk right in front of the window, and you’ll have great even lighting from the sun.

Things to Pay Attention To

When using natural light, you don’t have control. Lighting can change from one day to the next, or even minute to minute. Moving clouds can dramatically affect not only the light on your subject, but also how the background looks. These are just things to keep in mind when shooting with natural light.

In Conclusion

At the end of the day, you may want to invest in a lighting kit that gives you complete control of how your scene looks – and also gives you the ability to shoot no matter what time of day or weather. Still, we think using natural light is a viable option for most video creators, and may be the desired look you want for your next project.

Let us know what you think!

Any tips or recommendations for shooting with natural light? Let us know in the comments below!


Phil + The Video School Online Team