You may have a personal preference as to which light source you prefer, be it natural or artificial and, despite the combative title of this blog, we’re not for one minute going to suggest that one is better than the other. Instead, we’d suggest that it’s what you’re shooting that counts and should make your choice accordingly.
By way of demonstration, I set up a couple of still-life images, lighting one using artificial light from a humble desk lamp and the other using diffused daylight on a cloudy day. Along with the lighting being switched, I also changed the subject, but nothing else – the background is the same as is the kit – a tripod-mounted X-T1 with the spectacular XF90mm F2.
Shooting in artificial light
The beauty of artificial light is that it’s completely controllable. Even a simple desk lamp, like the one I’ve used here, can easily be moved around so you can direct the light where you want it. The same, of course, applies to flash, LED and fluorescent light sources. Compared to daylight, artificial light sources are comparatively small, meaning the light they emit is more harsh. You can diffuse it or you could simply play to these strengths, as I did here to light my spanner collection. Metallic objects – among others – are great for this kind of light, which throws deep shadows on the opposite side to the light source. For the collection of images below, I simply moved the light around the set up to get a variety of different effects.
As well as being a harsher light source, artificial light like my desk lamp tends to be less powerful, so you may need to increase your ISO if you want to shoot hand-held or – as I did here – mount the camera on a tripod. You also need to consider your white balance settings, but we’ll come to that a bit later.
Shooting in daylight
Putting my desk lamp to one side for a minute, I moved on to shooting with daylight, using a large, north-facing window in my house as the light source and opening the curtains completely. North-facing windows are best because no matter what time of day you shoot, the light will always be soft as the sun will never shine directly through it. I had no such problems on this dreary day. Daylight like this is lovely and soft, so it lends itself perfectly to flattering portraiture. With no willing human subjects on hand, I switched to this gerbera, which benefits just as well from the diffused light.
I started by setting up with the window directly behind me, which created the shot above. It’s OK, but the light is very flat and the background is a little more prominent than I would have liked. To solve this, I moved the flower round by 90° to help create some shadows between the petals and tried again. Much nicer – there’s some improved definition on the stem of the flower and the background is darker!
The daylight was a little brighter than my artificial light set up, but not by a huge margin and, wanting to keep the ISO down, I shot tripod-mounted again. With a human subject, I’d have pushed the ISO higher. Despite the fact that I was shooting within one metre of a floor-to-ceiling window, daylight levels do drop off quickly as you move away from the window. To counteract this, I used an A2 sheet of white card as a reflector to push light into the left hand side of the flower.
A question of white balance
Every light source has its own colour temperature, which is measured in Kelvin, essentially this means that different types of light have different colours. The human eye automatically corrects for this, but cameras can’t so you need to make sure you set the correct white balance setting to make sure colours are accurate under different lighting conditions. It’s tempting to shoot with white balance on Auto, but this one size fits all approach can get caught out. Which is why I always change the white balance setting myself when I shoot. Shooting in Raw is also an option as you can change the white balance setting in post production; a luxury that isn’t available with JPEGs.
Your X series camera comes with a variety of preset white balance options – daylight, incandescent, shady, fluorescent etc – in the first instance, use one of these. But the X-series cameras also have a Custom white-balance option which helps you get super-accurate colours 100% of the time.
Using it is simple, just frame the shot as you want it, select the Custom white-balance mode and then follow the on-screen instructions. Essentially, you need to hold a piece of white paper or card in the same lighting as the subject and then let the camera do the rest. I did that on both set ups, as well as used some presets, the results of which are shown here. Of course, there’s no right or wrong here, you can simply pick the shot you like the best, but it’s well worth playing about with white balance settings. Give it a go, whatever lighting you’re using!
For more help with white balance & settings please find our dedicated tutorial here.