WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A ‘NATURAL LIGHT’ PHOTOGRAPHER, EXACTLY?

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One of the more popular photographers in the wedding industry, Zach & Jody Gray,  touched off a firestorm of fury from a lot of wedding photographers when they gave a candid response in an interview by Creative Live. The blog post has since been pulled off the internet, but you can look at the screen capture here and read al the responses before it was pulled off.  The article was titled “5 Signs Your Wedding Photographer is Doing A Terrible Job.”  Here’s your sign..

  1. They ask you what to shoot next.
  2. They don’t look busy.
  3. They don’t want to shoot somewhere that you asked them to shoot.
  4. They’re looking at the back of their camera most of the day
  5. They ask you to do things that make you feel less than comfortable.

In a nutshell, Zach & Jody stated that their responses were taken out of context, and they never approved the article.  I get it, when photographers that elect to teach others and ‘put themselves out there’, there will always be criticism. You simply can’t please everybody. But I do commend them for the courage to step up and share their experiences with the new photographers.  However, I have to say they are way off base with the responses they have given. While I can go into the specifics of each response, I am going to respond specifically to one of the criticisms they gave. “They don’t want to shoot somewhere that you asked them to shoot.” Here’s their direct quote from the article;

It’s not a good sign when they may make up an excuse like “the lighting is better over here,” or “this shot would look better than what you want.” The reality is that they CAN’T shoot there because they can’t manipulate the lighting. This happens when the photographer “specializes” in natural light (that is something to stay away from when booking!), and what that statement means is, if there is not good light, the pictures will be terrible! Never hire a photographer who can’t manipulate light. He or she will miss key moments or you may not get the shots you wanted because they simply don’t know how to set them up. 

Woah woah, EXCUSE ME? Being a natural light photographer means I don’t know what I am doing, and you should stay away from?  Let’s put away that statement for a second and let’s see where Zach & Jody are coming from.

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Here’s a screen capture from Zach & Jody’s facebook page back from July 2013. So I think it’s safe to say they have a strong bias against those of us that shoot natural light. Again, everybody has different style, and that’s what makes us all different. I have no issue with that. But the problem is calling one style ‘bad’ over another, simply because you do not possess the skill set to correctly harness natural light, is completely idiotic.

So, exactly what does it mean to be a ‘natural light’ photographer? This means differently to everybody, but here is my definition.

“A natural light photographer utilizes available light to his/her full advantage, without use of any additional light modifier.”

Being a natural light, or available light photographer, doesn’t mean you just put clients in horrible lighting situation and go to town. It means assessing all available lighting situation at a given scene, meticulously calculating how light & shadow will accentuate your subjects, and  compose photos based on the best possible given lighting situation.  For me personally, there are many, many, many advantages of being a natural light photographer.  I will use my own photographs as an illustration for it.

1. My clients are more comfortable because it feels less like a ‘photoshoot,’ but more like just hanging out with a friend. I get to shoot my clients and capture their emotions in the most natural setting. I don’t have to tell them “hey, stand right here for 5 minutes while I setup the light, and then let’s act out a scene.” I can capture their natural interaction without it looking forced. For my style of photographer, natural light is the best way to go. In the shot below, it was an engagement session I shot in Laguna Beach.  This moments were completely unrehearsed, natural, & candid. I didn’t have to tell me couple to hold still while I setup my lights. It happened organically and shows so much more emotion & love.

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2. You know that romantic light at sunset, that ‘OH MY GOSH” yummy light?  I don’t need a flash, reflector, or any other external light sources to do that. In fact, I don’t think you CAN use a flash and create the same feeling.  The following two images. All natural light. My subjects were backlit by the late afternoon sun, which is then further diffused by tall trees. Gorgeous, gorgeous light. Here are two images from an anniversary portrait session & a destination wedding in Napa Valley winery.

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3. Even for preparation photos inside a hotel room, I can manipulate the light to capture emotional images.  Hotel rooms are usually lit by tungsten lighting, which is yellow and generally undesirable. I often will turn the image into black & white to give it that extra ‘punch’. It takes somebody who can correctly use natural light in order to put the bride in the right space in order to capture the best portrait.  The following two images are both completely shot with natural light, no external sources other than the sun. Oh, and some Jimmy Choo’s and gorgeous brides. 🙂

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So, let’s go back to what Zach & Jody said, or supposedly not said.  I will agree that being a natural light shooter does not preclude a photographer from knowing the tools needed to do the job. I use off camera flash, onboard flash, bounce flash for my reception shots. Just because I am a ‘natural light’ shooter doesn’t mean I just crank up my ISO, open up my aperture to F1.2, and hope for the best. It’s far from it. It’s knowing how to manipulate all available light at my disposal, and compose the most compelling images possible for my clients.  

Agree? Disagree? Would love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below and let’s discuss.

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