Create Natural Light for Close-Up Photography

In some cases the type of natural light you have isn’t the one you want for your close-up subject or your message. This is nothing to worry about, so long as you’re prepared with field lighting equipment.

Natural light is a readily available source that’s free, reliable, and beautiful. Too bad you can’t always rely on the sun or the weather to do exactly what you want. There are some tips and tricks that professional macro and close-up photographers use to manipulate, enhance, and redefine natural light so it works best for you.

Redirecting direct sun

If the sun is out and shining, but it’s coming from the wrong direction for your subject (often the problem in the middle of the day when it sits high in the sky), you might need to block the sun from your subject and create a more flattering direction for it.

In this case, you need at least two pieces of equipment to redirect the sun: a piece of cardboard or foam core (known as a black flag, or a gobo) to block the sun from your scene and a reflective surface to bounce sunlight back into your scene.

If you’re lucky enough to have a friend to help out, that person can hold the black flag and reflector in place. If not, you have to use grip to hold these materials in position. If you’re by yourself and have no grip to work with, then a third option is to set your camera’s 10-second timer and handhold the two items in place.

You can use this same method (without having to block the sunlight from your subject) when your subject is positioned in open shade and you want to get some sunlight on it.

Creating a softer light without waiting for clouds

Clouds have a knack for coming when you don’t want them and disappearing when you need them. In some parts of the world the weather may be fairly predictable, but even so, a professional never relies on the weather unless it’s absolutely necessary.

To photograph a subject in soft, diffused light, you should never have to wait for the clouds. If the sun is out and shining, place a diffusion scrim between the sun and your subject to soften the light. In macro and close-up photography a small scrim will suffice.

Diffusion materials come in a variety of strengths, enabling you to determine the quality and intensity of your light. A scrim with a thicker cloth produces a less intense and softer light, while a scrim with a thinner cloth produces a brighter and less diffused light.

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