Expert Tips for Using Natural Light When Shooting Video

The sun can be a cinematographer’s best friend or worst nightmare. Learning to harness its power can make or break your video project.

The sun may be considered a perfect light source: it lasts all day, requires no electricity, and can offer a wide variety of moods. However, we can’t control the sun. It rises and sets when it wants to and is affected by weather and location.

Cineflair often works on video projects in Edmonton that require the use of natural lighting. Knowing this from the very start of the development and concept phase of a project is key to successfully using the sun to our advantage. Here are a few tips and tricks we’ve picked up that help us get the most out of shooting with natural lighting.

Location Scouting

It is important to scout out the location in person before the scheduled shoot days. One of the many things to pay attention to is knowing the path of the sun and where it will be during different times of the day. This is important for outdoor shoots and indoor shoots that will use light coming in from any windows.

The position of the sun affects the intensity of the light, position of shadows, and the colour temperature (warm sunsets vs. bright blue daylight)

Weather conditions affect the quality of light by affecting the types of shadows the light creates:

  • An overcast day will create even light with soft diffused shadows.
  • A bright sunny day will create harsh shadows and intense brightness.

Having a sun tracking app such as Sun Seeker or Sun Surveyor, as well as a full-featured weather app such as Weather Office readily available on your smartphone can help you understand the lighting conditions you will be working with at a location.

Three-Point Lighting

Basic lighting requires a key light, fill light and backlight. These three sources help provide shape and definition to a subject in the 2D medium of video.

The biggest question that needs to be answered when using the sun as a light source is where do I place it?

Key Light

The sun placed in front of the subject may cause them to be over-exposed and make it difficult for the subject to see as it will most likely have them squinting (which is also not very flattering).

Fill Light/Side Light

Using it as a side light can cause dramatic shadows on the face – this may or may not be flattering to the subject or mood of the story. Often times we bounce the sunlight back at our subject with a reflector. This gives us more control.

Back Light

Helps separate the subject from the background by giving them a rim of light on the back of the head/shoulders. This is often the best choice as it avoids the subject squinting and our shadow doesn’t fall on to the subject.



Supplementary Lighting, Reflectors and Diffusion.

Adding a powered light source is great when you can get the power. This gives you the most control over the lighting situation. However, transporting lights can be cumbersome on some shoots where we need to work in a“run and gun” mode.  

On location, we employ our trusty reflector/bounce cards and diffusion. Using a combination of these can really shape the quality of light into something cinematic.

  • Reflectors can be used to bounce light back at the subject creating more fill or backlighting if the sun is being used as a key.
  • Diffusion can knock down the harshness of bright daylight and soften shadows.

RocketJump Film School, one of our favourite YouTube channels, has an excellent video that shows great examples on how to harness the sun for you video production.

What sort of tips or tricks do you have for shooting with natural light?