Pretty much anyone who has an iPhone knows what they DON’T want flash to look like. Shiny skin, harsh shadows, the background way darker than the foreground.

As such, many photographers proudly advertise being “natural light only”. But what happens when the weather is bad? Or you want to have a newborn session indoors because mom is still recovering, or you’d like an in-home session but your house doesn’t get *quite* enough light?

Artificial lighting doesn’t always have to look, well…flash-y. Here are a few secrets to making artificial light look as natural as possible.

Shoot Film

Baby Dalton's session was shot on film at his home. Baby Dalton’s session was shot on film at his home.

Film offers a completely different look with artificial light because the dynamic range and highlight retention of film is so much better than digital. When you shoot strobes with film the result is a much softer looking light source, much like natural light.

Addie Kate's session was shot on film at her home as with a strobe and softbox. Addie Kate’s session was shot on film at her home as with a strobe and softbox.

Feather It

This photo taken during baby Jack's newborn session is an example of feathered light.  This photo taken during baby Jack’s newborn session is an example of feathered light.

Feathering is when you put your subject just behind or below the main path of light coming from your light source. Placing them in the outer, scattered light rather than directly in front and center gives a really nice, soft light.

Bounce, Bounce, Bounce

Ben's smash cake session was shot using a bare strobe bounced off of a white wall and ceiling. Ben’s smash cake session was shot using a bare strobe bounced off of a white wall and ceiling. A pullback from Ben's session. A pullback from Ben’s session.

Bouncing light is a great way to mimic ambient light. With every surface the light bounces off of, the light is scattered into a bunch of different directions. The effect is soft light that lights up your subject and the whole room.

Just be careful bouncing off of colors other than white as you can end up reflecting that surface color on to your subjects. For example, bouncing light off the walls of a wooden barn can make your images appear orange.

This photo of Jake was taken in the same room as Ben's session, with the strobe pointed at the top of the wall opposite the windows. This photo of Jake was taken in the same room as Ben’s session, with the strobe pointed at the top of the wall opposite the windows.

Mix with Ambient Light (when you can)

This (digital) photo was taken using a strobe + softbox and mixed with ambient window light during baby Charlotte's newborn session. This (digital) photo was taken using a strobe + softbox and mixed with ambient window light during baby Charlotte’s newborn session.

Using artificial lights on as low a setting as possible is a good way to make sure the light doesn’t become too harsh. Leaving the windows uncovered and working with the available light you have will help to keep your strobe or flash settings low.

A word of caution: strobes, flashes, and all lightbulbs are set to be a certain color temperature. If your bulb color temperature is different than the color temperature of your ambient light, you can end up with some funky white balance issues.

Use Soft Light

A large softbox was used for this photo of baby Jackson. This room had little to no available natural light. A large softbox was used for this photo of baby Jackson. This room had little to no available natural light.

There are just about a MILLION different light modifiers out there, and it can get super confusing knowing which one to use. Now, not all natural light is soft (during midday it is definitely harsh) but the late afternoon light that is the most flattering is typically soft.

When it comes to soft light modifiers, bigger is better. Also diffusion helps to soften the light coming out of the modifier. Softboxes, octodomes, and beauty dishes are great.

Also, the closer your light is to your subject, the softer the light will be (just make sure the power is low). Remember though, the closer the light the quicker the falloff, so keep an eye on your shadows and if they are too dark consider a reflector.

Another example using a large softbox is this image from Jack Henry's session. Another example using a large softbox is this image from Jack Henry’s session.

Another (somewhat surprising) soft light source is fluorescent lights! They are sometimes used by famous editorial and headshot photographers for the way they flatter skin and fill pores. You can either use pro-grade (and very expensive!) fluorescent lights designed for studio photography, or you can get them from your local home improvement store. Just be aware that you need to get T8 bulbs as T12 will flicker and limit what shutter speeds can be used.

This shot of Jake was lit with a fluorescent shop light and four T8 bulbs. This shot of Jake was lit with a fluorescent shop light and four T8 bulbs. In this image you can see the shop light reflected in the catchlights in his eyes. In this image you can see the shop light reflected in the catchlights in his eyes.

I hope that if you are considering an indoor photography session this has opened up the possibilities for you! Contact me today to book or inquire about a studio session or sign up for my newsletter to stay in the loop on all my events and goings-on around here.