Most photography hold their favorite light source to be the best. Personally, I like to keep an open mind, but I still know which light gives me better results personally and it continues to be my favorite. For artificial light, I will be talking about strobe lights. In professional photography it’s very uncommon to use hot lights, or constant lights, as they are far less useful.
So let’s start off by talking a little about natural light
Natural light has beautiful qualities when used correctly, but it does have its drawbacks and dangers. When diffused, natural light can provide clean, bright, and soft light onto your subject. It can also provide stunning golden tones on portraits when used during sunrise or sunset (the “Golden Hours”). You can also use it pretty much anywhere you are! Most buildings have windows and if you’re outside, well, there’s plenty of light! You just have to know how to bounce, diffuse, and direct the light to doing exactly what you need.
One of the biggest benefits is that natural light is the easiest way to light people on-location. No need to photoshop a background in when you can just go to the location you want! As long as the light looks good there as well.
One other big benefit: natural light is free. Once you have your light modifiers, you won’t have to worry about changing bulbs, breaking pricy equipment and that sort of thing.
Natural light is not without its drawbacks, however. Natural lighting can change quickly with the weather. Many bridal shoots are planned far ahead and outside, but what do you do if it suddenly gets very cloudy or starts to rain? The whole shoot gets called off.
It also has the drawback of easily giving harsh light as well, which can look…unflattering on most skin textures.
Depending on your environment, it can also be difficult to diffuse and control. Wide open areas are one such area that provide very little options without bringing a multitude of light modifiers.
Onto artificial light
Artificial light also has many beautiful qualities, but is more technical to work with. You’ll have to have a method to trigger the strobes and know how to properly adjust the light source – from different light modifier choices, to flags and scrims, to distance from the subject, to adjusting the brightness, to the number of lights, and more.
What this boils down to can be summed up in one word: Control.
Artificial light offers the ability to control exactly what the light looks like on the subject. If you like a certain backdrop, you can shoot at any time of the day or night, regardless of weather conditions – you’ll never have to cancel a shoot if the day becomes cloudy. Essentially, artificial light is easier to control and can provide superior results when shooting indoors.
The downfall of artificial light is that it does cost a pretty penny to get started. For a single light, it can cost thousands of dollars. Of course that is for name-brand equipment, and my preference is for ones that cost less than $200 each and won’t make me cry when I have to replace them, but that’s still quite a lot if you want to have 6 or so lights at your disposal. Adding onto that the soft-boxes, strip boxes, scrims and flags, umbrellas, light stands, sand bags, boom stands, reflectors, and more. With all that, even bargain shopping will still run up your bill.
One other negative aspect is that artificial lights are very difficult to use on-location. Most need a constant power source like an outlet. Some can run on power from a vehicle, but that’s pretty wasteful on your gas tank and battery. You can buy battery packs as well, or lights that run on battery, but then you’re very much limited with the amount of time you’ll be able to shoot. Location work with artificial lights can also be tricky, as you’ll need to learn mixed lighting to work with natural light at the same time.
The best light, hands down is…….
The light you make the best images with. Neither light source is better than the other for every photographer.
While artificial light may be my personal preference, I’m a studio photographer, so what did you expect? I specifically built my studio in a location without windows that could be perfectly sealed off from any stray light to further enhance the control over the final outcome.
I do know photographers that swear by natural light, and their images come as just as beautiful as mine. They’ve become experts at reading the light, finding areas, and modifying naturally occurring light.
If you have no preference and work just as happily inside a studio as you do in the field with just a reflector and diffusion kit, that’s great! Whatever helps you create images worth your time.