What is it about natural lighting that seems so superior to a traditionally-lit studio setup? Is it that the light is warmer? Is it because it is usually balanced throughout the image? Does it create a more successful photograph because it is recognizable as being all-natural?
Interestingly enough, the primary reason that most people like the “looks” of natural lighting in a photograph is due primarily to the fact that it is usually diffuse light. It is not harshly directed or coming from a single source, and is usually extremely flattering to the subject – regardless of it being several items in a still life or a the face of a smiling person.
Can you re-create this more favorable lighting scenario in the studio setting? Actually, many professional and amateur photographers have created their own setups to reproduce the diffusion that occurs in the world of natural. Some might use inexpensive materials and others might purchase costly professional reflectors, but all seek to eliminate the angular shadows and artificial coloration that comes from a studio fixture.
One of the simplest approaches is to create a custom wall or surface to control the effects of a lighting element. For example, many photographers position their subjects near a wall or even a large piece of slightly angled Styrofoam, and then point a one thousand to fifteen hundred watt theatrical scoop pointing from the floor and straight up the wall or the custom reflector. This bounces a remarkably diffuse light onto the subject and creates soft shadows and an overall warm glow that is easy to adjust. Of course, the complete lighting setup for such an image would have to be carefully crafted to allow the background lighting to remain effective too.
You see, this is the biggest challenge to creating natural lighting in the studio – balancing it in the same way that it exists in the natural world. While a photographer may always be seeking directional lighting that allows them to capture remarkable effects of light or shade, generally, the natural world has light reflecting and bouncing everywhere. This means that such patterns should be incorporated into a studio setting that is being developed to replicate the natural world.
Usually, a photographer will opt for silver/gold reflectors to create softer lighting that doesn’t create harder shadows. These are often the most affordable, portable, and flexible professional options, and they can really add a natural “glow” to the subject while also allowing darker areas of a studio to receive the same treatment too.