With careful composition and editing techniques, you can take your portrait game to the next level. In this video, I’ll be showing you how to level up your portraits with this simple natural lighting tip.

Video: Level Up Your Portraits With This Simple Natural Lighting Tip

Before we begin, be sure to download the exercise file here and follow along as I edit.

The Simple Natural Lighting Tip

The natural lighting tip is quite simple. It’s to place your subject in the brightest part of the frame. The reasons are twofold. First, doing this will naturally draw more attention to your subjects. Second, it will also give you more flexibility when you edit. Let’s begin with how to apply this technique when shooting.

Composing the Shot In-Camera

First, no this wasn’t a mystical enchanted forest. It was actually just off PCH next to the side of a hotel. I began with a test shot of my couple and the first thing I noticed was the open sky in the middle of the image.

natural lighting tip composition

Since our eyes naturally go to the brightest spot in an image, it’s usually a bad idea to place our subjects away from it. We want to bring the attention to the couple so I placed them over the patch of open sky. See the difference and notice where your attention is naturally drawn to.

natural lighting tip beach

Let’s check out two more examples for this natural lighting tip. First, we have an open scene at the beach. I placed my couple right in front of the sun.

In the second example, we were shooting right next to a large open door. The light was pouring in from the side and I placed my subject directly in the light which my assistant was diffusing with a large scrim. Pairing that with a darker background helped draw the focus directly to her.

Enhancing the Images in Post-Production

This is where you’ll see the power of this simple natural lighting tip. I began by applying the Modern > Soft Light preset from VF Presets.

Then I added a radial filter to darken the areas around the subject and pull more focus straight to the couple. When we place our subjects over the brightest part of the image, we’re able to essentially modify the light around it while looking natural. Notice that it looks as though the couple was lit by a soft-box when it was actually just natural daylight.

The same goes for our image at the beach. After applying a preset, I added a radial burn. No matter how much I adjust it, it still looks natural.

For our last example, I tried a different approach. Instead of a radial filter, I lowered the entire exposure. Then, using the “Dodge Highlights” brush from the Retouching Toolkit, I added light to my subject’s face. The brush was able to selectively lift the bright light falling on my subject.

natural lighting tip before after

Lastly, I added a subtle radial burn and the image is done!


I hope you enjoyed this article/video. Next time you’re out shooting portraits, keep this natural lighting tip in mind. All you have to do is keep an eye out for the brightest spot in the frame. Place your subjects there and see how it transforms your image. You’ll also enjoy the flexibility in the lighting in post-production.

For a full course on editing, be sure to check out the Mastering Lightroom on SLR Lounge Premium. You can also find intuitive lighting based presets like the Modern Pack as well as the Retouching Toolkit at Visual Flow.

Don’t miss our next episode of Mastering Your Craft on Adorama’s YouTube channel next week! If you want to catch up on all the episodes, make sure you check out our playlist!