Fashion: Three Simple Natural Lighting Techniques

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Apogee Photo Magazine

Fashion: Three Simple Natural Lighting
by Lindsay Adler

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When people think of fashion
photography, they often
envision big studios with lots
of expensive lighting setups.
However, expensive setups
aren't necessary. In fact,
many images in my portfolio
are naturally lit. There are
lots of ways to manipulate
natural light to create
flattering effects. The

Copyright © Lindsay Adler
following are three key

lighting techniques that I
Direct light: This image was taken in the
frequently use in my fashion
park next to my house about 45 minutes
images: direct sunlight,
before sunset. The light was rich and
directional, and I looked for the light
window light, and shade with
pouring through the trees. The light
created dark shadows that helped shape the

model’s contours.
Direct Sunlight

Technical: Canon 5D, Canon 45mm Tilt
Direct sunlight can be very
shift lens, 1/250 at 1/250, ISO 100
beautiful in the way that the

light sculpts the face, but
there are several pitfalls. If
you plan to shoot in direct sunlight, the first two hours or last two hours of
daylight are the most desirable. The lower the angle of the sun, the more
flattering it will be on the model’s face. With early morning and later
evening light, you will have beautiful directional light with a warm, glowing
quality. Direct sunlight is also very attractive when you're using interesting
shadows. These may be lines created by a fence, leaves through the trees, or
another pattern.

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Direct light: This image is the same
model taken about 30 minutes earlier
than the first image (about 1 hour 15
minutes before sunset). I put the model
into direct sunlight instead of in the
broken light of the trees and slightly
overexposed the skin to give this
creamy, smooth complexion.
Technical: Canon 5D, Canon 85mm ,
1/80 at 2.0, ISO 100

Copyright © Lindsay Adler

Once the sun is high in the sky, the shadows are harsher. The models begin
to squint, and the light loses its warm quality. You must be aware of the
model’s eyes and also the hot spots that direct sun may create on clothing or
skin. The sun may cause light-colored clothing to burn out and become an
unpleasant distraction in the image. At this point, you can either move the
model into the shade or hold something in the light to shade the problem
spot on the clothing. Furthermore, when the sun is high in the sky (top
lighting), it creates unsightly shadows under the model's eyes that should be

Window Light

Window light is some of the most beautiful, soft light for portraiture and
beauty images. You can move the model in relation to the window to help
choose how the light affects her face. When the model directly faces the
window and you shoot her straight on, shadows are nearly eliminated. If
you then turn the model perpendicular to the window, the light begins to
add shape and shadow to her face. If the shadows are too dark, simply put a
reflector on the other side of the model.

When you're using window light, be sure that it's not direct light coming
through the window and hitting the model, or the light won't have soft
qualities. You must wait until the sun is high in the sky or choose a window
that doesn't receive direct light.

Be careful not to have the model too close to the window, because it might
create the effect of top lighting and cause shadows around the eyes. If you
pull the model back just a bit from the window, the light becomes more

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Incidentally, doorway light is similar in quality to window light. Using
doorways or archways outside will create a similar lighting effect and can be
very useful to achieving a softer look on bright, sunny days.

Copyright © Lindsay Adler
Copyright © Lindsay Adler

Window Light: Here the model
Window Light: Here the
was posed with the window off to
model was posed with the
the left of the frame, slightly to
light mostly to the front and
the front, with the window about
slightly off to the left side. A
five feet from her face. The soft
black backdrop was hung
light wraps around her face, and
behind the model, and we
you can see the shape of the
simply used the large
window reflecting in the
windows in my living room as
highlights of her eyes. I had a
the main source of light.
black cloth draped over some

furniture in the background to
Technical: Canon 5D, Tamron
give the dark background effect.
28-300 at 60mm, 1/200 at

5.0, ISO 400
Technical: Canon 5D, Canon

85mm, 1/200 at 5.0, ISO 400.

Window Light Reflector: Here the
model is posed with the window just out
of the right side of the frame. An
assistant was holding a gold reflector to
fill in the shadows on the left side of her
face. This image was shot in a worn
warehouse located in my town. The
window light was rich and soft and
created a beautiful effect as it filtered
through the dusty air.
Technical: Canon 5D, Canon 50mm,
1/200 at 2.0, ISO 400.

Copyright © Lindsay Adler

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Shade with Reflector

Shooting a model situated in shade by using a reflector is the lighting
technique I select most often when I'm shooting on location, because it
solves many of the problems of location shoots. First, by reflecting light
into the model's face, I have the ability to avoid top lighting that creates
unpleasant shadows in his eyes. Second, I love the quality of the light I
achieve when I shoot in the shade and add in reflected sunlight. I don't have
to deal with the problems of direct sunlight, but I can still get a bright and
glowing quality from my reflector choice.

Shade Reflector: This image
(of my roommate) was
taken in a small park in our
town. It was a bright day,
and I had her sit in the
shadow of the trees on a
beautiful set of stairs in the
parkway. I had her
boyfriend stand just out of
the frame, reflecting the
sunlight outside of the row
of trees. I had another

assistant use a piece of foam
Copyright © Lindsay Adler
core (board) to flap wind

into her hair (and away
Technical: (left) Canon 5D, Canon 85mm,
from her face).
1.8 at 1/250, ISO 100. (right) Canon 5D,

Canon 50mm, 3.0 at 1/250, ISO 100.

There are dozens of reflectors out there to use. They come in different
shapes, sizes, and colors. I typically use two types, reflector disks and foam
core. I have several 5-in-1 reflector disks that include silver, gold, black, a
silver/gold mix, and a diffuser. Having these different options allows me to
employ different lighting techniques. I choose silver reflectors most often,
and sometimes silver/gold if I want to add a bit of warmth to the photo.

I'm also fond of using foam core to reflect light into the images. Foam core
is very useful, because when I travel, I can pick it up at any arts and crafts
store in most places. It's very inexpensive and available in an array of
different sizes. It reflects a neutral color of light into the shadow of my
images (neither cool like silver nor warm like gold). These boards reflect
much less light than a reflector, but during a bright day (or in the studio)
they're more than sufficient for filling in shadows.

Shade Reflector: For the
image, the model is
standing in an open
stairwell of an old building.

APOGEE PHOTO MAGAZINE: Fashion: Three Simple Natural Lighting Techniques by ... Page 5 of 5
Light was filtering in from
the ceiling above (it was
open to the sky), and the
model stood in the shadows
while an assistant reflected
light into her face
(eliminating shadows under
her eyes and giving a bit of
glow to her face).

Copyright © Lindsay Adler

Technical: (left) Canon 5D, Canon 50mm,
5.6 at 1/250, ISO 400 (right) Canon 5D,
Canon 85mm, 2.0 at 1/100, ISO 400.

When you're shooting in the shade, however, there are some issues to keep
in mind. First of all, if you're shooting in the shade but the background is in
the sun, watch out for distracting highlights that may be created. Second,
shooting in the shade will give you a slightly cool image (more blue) that
you might want to warm up in post-processing or by correctly setting your
white-balance to shade.

Try practicing these different, inexpensive and effective natural lighting
techniques on your next model shoot (even if it’s family and friends) and
you will see your model photography skills improving dramatically.


Lindsay Adler is a professional photographer and photo lecturer living in
New York and London. She teaches workshops and classes through her
business, Adler Photo Workshops (
She enjoys all types of photography, including fashion, travel, nature, and

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