At its core, the very nature of photography comes down to light itself. Light is what illuminates your subjects, and shapes how they appear in your photographs. Like a person, light has different personality traits that will affect the overall look and feel of your macro photos. Let’s dive into three light sources to learn about their pros and cons, and when to best utilize each type.
Natural light can be a great source of light for macro photography in the right conditions. It offers hours of non-stop use without the need for batteries (as opposed to Speedlites) and can create effects that other light sources can’t. Depending on what time of the day you shoot, the characteristics and qualities of natural light change. If you utilize this to your advantage, natural light can provide you with a variety of styles for your macro photography throughout the day. When the sun is below the horizon (before sunrise and after sunset) the “blue hour” brings cool-colored tones and has a nice evenness to it. During the golden hours of the morning and evening (when the sun is just above the horizon), the qualities of the light are very warm. This is also a great time to see the dynamics of the environment for your macro (i.e. — sun rays coming through the trees and dew on the plants).
The downside to using natural light is the unpredictable patterns it can have. One moment it may be bright and sunny, while the next your light could disappear due to passing clouds. Vice versa, if you’re shooting with soft, diffused sunlight through the clouds, and the clouds break — you’re left with a harsh light source with strong shadows and too much light. Natural light also makes it harder to take creative shots by shaping your light, because there aren’t that many ways to shape natural light. You can diffuse it if it’s too harsh, but if it’s too dark out there’s not really a solution. Being dependent on a light source you can’t control has more limitations than other light sources (such as Speedlites or flashlights).
Natural light is best utilized during the golden hours and blue hours where the light is the most dynamic. This provides a range of color tones and characteristics (such as sun rays). The other time when natural light is very useful is on overcast days, where evenly distributed cloud cover creates a softbox for the sun. This diffused light is great for providing even, consistent light — as long as the rain stays away.