Natural Light (Part 1)

And Light was made on Earth. Know how to use it.

Capricious luminosity in the Grand Canyon
Localized moisture creates a rainbow in an area with distinct spots of light.
The biggest of the biggest
The Hellisheidi geothermal plant, the most powerful in the world, with a production capacity of 303 MW of electricity and 400 MW of hot water.
cows in fog
Cows bar the way to traffic in the fog from the top of the island.
From day to night
Sun sets west of Playa Benijo, southwest of Tenerife.
Sunset over Pacific Ocean
Catamaran passengers admire the distant sunset over the Pacific Ocean.
The theme of light in photography is inexhaustible. In this article, we give you some basic notions about your behavior, to start with, just and only in terms of geolocation, the time of day and the time of year.

It is probably not new: the term photograph originally means, from the Greek, to paint with light.

With more or less processing and more or less electronics, that's what any camera does.

Light in Photography is therefore crucial.

And if the selection of the situation or the scenery or landscape are important for that “painting”, the choice of light that illuminates them is equally important. After all, a good combination of these elements makes for the best photographs.

We know that light can be of natural or artificial origin. In this article, we're just going to dedicate ourselves to explaining to you three of the main variables that influence the greater hardness or softness of sunlight.

We start with four unavoidable notions about Light in Photography:

1- Light is made up of several wavelengths – dark blue; light blue; green yellow; Red; orange and its variants. These wavelengths and as such light change all the time.

The change is due to several factors but mainly due to the position of the sun in relation to the terrestrial horizon and to the weather.

2- The more oblique the sun is to the horizon, the softer and warmer the light. This is because the more oblique it is, the more atmosphere it has to pass through the sun's rays. 

The atmosphere scatters the bluish wavelengths of light and lets it pass in dust.dominating the reds and oranges.

3- Natural light with a predominance of “warm” tones (oranges and yellows) and little contrast – because it is very filtered by the atmosphere – is what we call soft.

It is, as a rule, the most valued for a wide range of photographic purposes. 

4 - The cloud layer blocks and “cools” light reaching the Earth's surface so everything you read below does not apply on foggy or overcast days.

Meteorology aside, let's see when we're supposed to have the softest and hardest light when it comes to:

time of day

On days with clear or slightly cloudy skies, shortly after sunrise and just before sunset, these are times when natural light will be softer and better. 

During and just after sunset, it is normal for the sky, the clouds (also its reflection in the water) to be covered with pink or magentas. Are colored by a kind of “remnants” of light direct of the sun.

À As the Earth rotates, these tones fade and are replaced by a darker and darker bluish, then dark.

On the contrary, the worst time to shoot in soft light will always be, by theory, midday and the remaining hours of the day when the sun is at its highest. 

Time of Year and Latitude 

The interaction of the height of the year or season of the year (Translation of the Earth) with the latitude makes the logic of the time of day much more complex than described above.

With the necessary caveat for the long winter in the Arctic and Antarctic extremes where sunlight is practically non-existent, the higher the Latitude (close to the poles) the smoother and better the natural light will be.

It's just not because these places have their own summer.

In the summer of the top and bottom of the Earth, sunlight falls directly on for many hours (less obliquely than at other times of the year). 

In the summer months of northern or southern places, the light is practically continuous (it can last up to 22, 23 hours a day in June in places like the Alaska, to Lapland or Tierra del Fuego).

If the sky is clear, it may happen that, at these times, several hours are of harsh light, too intense if, for example, it is reflected by snowy ground. 

On the other hand, many others will be of soft light since the sun remains for a long time low above the terrestrial horizon.

On the contrary, in Ecuador (0º latitude) and contiguous latitudes:

There are no seasons – there may be monsoons. Sunrise and sunset (approximately 6:18 and XNUMX:XNUMX) vary little.  

You can count on about 12h of daily light, a little more or less à As the latitude increases and the distance from that part of the Earth varies from the sun. 

Viewed in a simplified way: in equatorial or tropical areas directly exposed to the sun or in summer from intermediate latitudes, such as, for example, Portugal (or the Uruguay, in the Southern Hemisphere) the hours of the day with soft light are from shortly after dawn to 9:30 am or 10 am and from 15:30 pm to 16 pm at sunset.

And summarizing everything we saw above, following the same logic, a combination of latitude and height where we are guaranteed soft light will be, for example:

in the first days of the year – end of winter, in the higher boreal latitudes. In this case, the weak and short-lived sunlight increases significantly from day to day.


The true color of the sky is black. During the day, we look at the sky illuminated and colored blue above all by the scattered bluish spectrum of sunlight.

Only à As altitude increases, the air becomes thinner. As it is more rarefied, it disperses less and less of this spectrum.

As a result, the sky becomes less blue and blacker. this can to affect the brightness of images that are underexposed (darkened).

The effect is perfectly visible at altitudes from 3.500 to 4.000 meters.


Because they directly influence both the spectrum and duration of light as well as the weather, latitude and time of year are the first factors to influence the type of photographic work you will find on a given trip.

It is one thing to travel to the equator where the sun is guaranteed to rise around 6 am and set around 18 pm.

Another thing is traveling to the Iceland on June 20, when there is light 24 hours a day.

Thus, we have learned from experience that:

In equatorial and tropical countries

1- The ideal is to wake up as early as possible, preferably before sunrise and make the most of the soft light that goes from dawn to 9:30 am to photograph landscapes, scenery, situations, portraits in the softest possible light.

2 - From 11am onwards and until practically 16pm, except for some exceptional places, it will be difficult to continue to achieve this with good quality.

You can take advantage of this period to cover a dense tropical forest (the only time the light is likely to enter), certain specific alleys of a colonial city, images of translucent sea (better with the sun at full), closed markets or other interiors.

Otherwise, it's a good time to organize next days of work or rest.

3 - From 16 pm to 16:30 pm onwards is again a crucial time of day for good photographic work.

In the summer of a northern or southern country

1 – The fact that there is probably light 24 hours a day raises problems in the selection of work and rest times.

For a start, don't forget that the “time bands” of sunrise and sunset almost always create special luminosities.

Organize your work and rest time so that you are available for both.

2- If you have this privilege, guide your work according to the pleasure that the discovery is giving you.

In this type of geographical and seasonal framing, it is easy to find yourself physically on the skids without having taken advantage of the place without being “behind” the camera precisely because it went into “automatic mode” and photographs obsessively fascinated by the place.

3 – Another important issue: places located at high latitudes have complicated and unstable weather conditions.

Preferably, keep yourself with access to the Internet, informed about what is expected for each place and available to travel to the places where the best weather is expected.

4- Take advantage of periods of heavy and unequivocally long rain to rest.

The period of demobilization or storm relief almost always offers special luminosity.

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Natural Light (Part 2)

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Jeep crosses Damaraland, Namibia
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Sanahin Cable Car, Armenia
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