Natural light versus studio light

What's the difference between natural light headshots and studio headshots?

One uses the sun. The other uses lights to mimic the sun. Boom! Blog post done. Right?

What is natural light?
Natural light is using mother nature to light your beautiful face. If we’re indoors in my home studio, we set up near a large window and use the natural sunlight that spills from it.

Large windows are great because they provide a lot of light. Cloudy days are great because the light is even and soft. Extremely sunny rays of sunlight that burn your eyes are not so great, but we have blinds for that.

The benefits of using natural light are that you get a steady stream of constant light. The light is often flattering and easy to work with. Different times of day offer different types of light and a seasoned professional will know how to use each of them. 

One major downside to natural light is that once the sun goes down, you're done. Timing is everything to capture the best light.

What is natural light recommended for?
I recommend natural light for babies, small children and pets because there is no bright flash to distract or upset them. There is no complicated gear for small ones to trip over.

Natural light is more fluid. It’s the fastest way to switch up scenarios for a variety of images quickly.

Note: We finished our walk-out basement in my own home specifically for shooting natural light photos. Huzzah!

Images that use natural light tend to look, well, more natural. They are closer to how your naked eye would see the world. Think blogger, environmental portrait, and Pinterest-y type of images.

Here are some examples of using natural light in a studio-like setting.


What is studio light?
Studio light is using a series of strobes and modifiers to mimic the sun indoors… and then some!

Here's where things get complicated.

Positioning, wattage, light shaping, the angle, all of it needs to be taken into consideration when setting up a portrait.

Notice I said "setting up." Often we'll need to allow more time for setup and takedown than the actual photos themselves.

Studio light is stationary. The lights are set up and the subject is placed in a specific spot so the light will fall on them in a careful and calculated manner. Any changes other than micro movements require the lights to be altered. 

It comes with a different set of challenges than using natural light. Access to power is one said challenge.

One time I had a 25-foot extension cord plugged in down a hall and around a corner from where I was shooting because there were no plugs in the room available. The cleaners kept unplugging the cable and no one could figure out why the lights weren't working.

What is studio light recommended for?
I recommend studio lights for professionals and anyone else who needs a more polished look to their images. For example, if you need a photo for work or a LinkedIn profile picture or you are speaking a conference. 

Once we have the setup right, the light will remain consistent as long as we shoot. This really helps out graphic designers if they have to work with your images later.

Studio lights really help keep the background clean and make it easy for the designers to clip you out (you know, for when you need to be photoshopped into a brochure next to a giant golf tee. Yeah! That's happened).

Because we can really play with shadows and highlights, you end up with images you'd see in a magazine and editorials. So you, the subject, are not part of an environment like in natural light. If that makes sense?

Here are some examples of studio light. 

Here, for comparison is a side-by-side of using studio light and natural light with the same subject and backdrop.

Studio lighting on the left. Natural lighting on the right.

Studio lighting on the left. Natural lighting on the right.


So which is right for me?
It really depends on what you are using the photos for. My home studio is set up so that we can use both natural light and studio lights quickly. If you are unsure which you would need, let's have a chat before we shoot. I'm happy to go over details with you and help you make your decision.