It’s pretty easy to make your own natural light “studio” for just a little money and a little time for set up. “Portraits Unplugged” is what I call shooting with ambient light and it’s important to understand the direction, quality and depth of light in order to make a portrait that is effective. Learning to see the light is a process that requires practice. Controlling the light to create your mood is imperative.

Natural light using a canopy

My favorite natural lighting is what we call Porch Light or Garage Door Light, which means there is no light coming from above that causes shadows under the eyes. All the celebrity photographers in Los Angeles have big doors that open into their studios and the quality of light is terrific.

Of course, that depends. Remember my favorite saying in photography: Everything depends upon everything! The quality of light with Porch Light depends upon what is bouncing around outside the door. Sometimes it’s perfect just as is, other times it needs to be supplemented.

natural light Bobbi shooting under canopy with reflector
The canopy cuts out the overhead light. There is light bouncing off the house and it’s supplemented by a reflector.

There are several options for canopy tents out there, with most costing between $60-$80. These are pop up tents, simple to put up with two people, maybe a bit more time with one, but really easy. No having to read complicated instructions or use tools. This gives you plenty of roof space allowing you to place your subject in different locations for different background. You could also use a pop up background behind them if you don’t want the natural setting.

Bouncing natural light

I use anything I can find to bounce light, including my house! This will only work at certain times of day. My house has unpainted shingles, slightly warm, so it’s nice on skin tones. For a more directional, but still soft light, add a reflector.

Place the reflector in the sun with the white side towards the subject. The resulting bounce is soft and creates beautiful, smooth skin tones. If you are in the shade, then use the silver side, and bring it closer. Avoid the gold, as it can cause cross-color since the background light is cool natural shade.

For both of these images, I positioned them closer to the edge of the canopy so that the sunlight would backlight them. The reflector then bounces light back into their faces for great skin and good catch lights in the eyes.

natural light BTS Bobbi shooting young girl
BTS Bobbi shooting young girl, under canopy, with a reflector

You can move to different places under the tent to change what you see behind them. Or, you could hang a background, or a sheet or any material if you want a more studio look.

For a softer light, don’t place the reflector in full sun.

natural light BTS Bobbi shooting under canopy
White reflector in partial sunlight

The light will be just a little softer for a sweeter mood. Remember to use a wide aperture to make that wonderful bokeh in the background. Make sure to keep the two on the same plane so you don’t need a lot of depth of field.

Smiling young boy and girl
Brother and Sister happy!

Photographing kids can be a blast and it’s important to capture their mood and sense of fun. Here’s Molly spinning!

Young girl spinning
Molly twirling

Everything you need is readily available and inexpensive. The canopy tent is the most expensive item and still under $100, with years of use for both photos and staying out of the sun! Everyone has a stool, and you don’t need to buy apple boxes as any box will work to elevate their feet.

The reflector I used for this shoot is a Sunbounce reflector, which is expensive, but you can use any popup reflector like the Lastolite, or even just a piece of foamcore board, which is about $10. Add a stand and a clamp and you are ready to start shooting.