Natural Light | Flash Photography | Sun as Rim Light

posted in Flash Photography

Natural Light | Flash Photography | Sun as Rim Light

Natural Light vs Flash Photography

This post isn’t really about natural light versus flash photography, it’s about making our photographs the best that they can be. That is the point of our profession after all. I shoot natural light all the time, but I also know WHEN and HOW to use a flash to get great results!


There are a lot of people out there claiming to be natural light photographers – especially in the wedding photography business. A good majority of them claim to shoot in a photojournalistic style and to never use anything but natural light. in my opinion  the great majority of those photographers do not know HOW to use flash properly.

IMAGE A | This is how the camera meters the scene when left to its own devices. The camera assessed the situation and tries to keep as much data as possible without letting whites blow out or blacks under expose; but the camera simply doesn’t have enough dynamic range when shooting toward the light source (sun) to capture a great photo. The rim light from the sun does look fantastic though – so what does a natural light shooter do next.

IMAGE B | A natural light shooter has to raise the exposure to make sure the face is properly exposed. This causes the background to get brighter and the catch light in the hair to start to blow out. It’s not a bad picture/exposure at all, but my question to all those natural light shooters is; could it not be better?

IMAGE C | Taking the settings back to the same as Image A – the background is exposed the same again, but we add a off-camera-flash to camera-left. We let the flash fill in the shadows on the face and make sure to gel the flash with a CTO and the results are a natural looking photo – while using the sun as our beautiful rim light. The flash also adds some nice catch lights to the eyes.

And again here, same illustration as above;


I know my wife, Jamie, doesn’t like these photos of herself as we were getting set up, but I thought they made such a great teaching tool I used them anyway. And below is another image example of using flash for the main light and the bright sky/sunset at back to provide a subtle rim/hair light.

Using only natural light, it is difficult to have both good catchlights and a nice hair/rim light

because typically, only one is available to you at a time. A natural light shooter will often look for shade then face the subject toward the direction of light to achieve a nice catch light in the eyes. However, this won’t allow for any rim light. Sometimes a natural light photographer will shoot toward the sun to get a beatiful hair light, only to find the eyes often become lifeless. Like this post? Check out more lighting tips from Pabst Photo.

softbox light sun rim hair light