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Video: How to Create Natural Light Indoors When There Is No Natural Light

(Please note: The photoshoots featured in this video were all filmed prior to COVID-19.)

When shooting on location, especially indoors, it helps to understand off-camera flash so that you can create the right light for the look you want, despite the ambient lighting conditions. During a recent shoot at One Jiu Jitsu in Tustin, we were looking to take some natural light portraits of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners in action, but the studio offered very little natural light. Fortunately, we were able to simulate a natural light effect using strobes and a basic bounce light technique.

In this video/article, I’ll show you a technique you can use to create natural light portraits with whatever lighting gear you have available. We cover similar concepts for creating every natural light effect using flash in our Lighting 4 Workshop.

1. Diffuse and Bounce Light to Simulate Natural Light Portraits

natural light portraits effect flash bounce athletic portraits

To simulate the look of soft, natural light portraits, we used two layers of diffusion: the soft box and the v-flat from V-Flat World (which we used to bounce the light). At this particular location, we were lucky in that every surface was bright white and perfect for bouncing light. We could have achieved a similar look without all of the white walls, but the bright surfaces allowed us to bounce light more efficiently and use a lower power setting on our strobes.

2. Understand Light Power Vs. Recycle Time

We used Profoto B10+ strobes for this shoot, but it’s more about how much power you need rather than which make or model of flash you’re using. The B10+ provides about 500 watt seconds of power, which you can get using other brands of strobes like Godox, Flashpoint, and so on. One of the benefits of using several high-powered lights is that we can set the flash units to a lower power setting (we set each of the B10+’s to 20-40 watt seconds of power) to minimize our recycle time. A fast recycle time is particularly useful in fast-paced environments, such as when photographing action shots like this.

[Related Reading: In-Studio vs. On-Location Lighting Setups | Slice of Pye, Ep. 2]

3. Use Direct Diffusion with Lower Power Lights

natural light portraits direct diffused light
Don’t let the large light set up scare you; it simply demonstrates the use of multiple layers of diffusion for a natural light effect.

If you don’t have Profoto lights or v-flats, you can still create a natural light effect using whatever lights you have available. If you have less power to spare from your light source (say 50-60 watt seconds of power from a standard speedlight), you would aim the flash units directly at your subjects (instead of bouncing it off of another surface) and diffuse the light through an umbrella and a scrim (which you can make using a large, white sheet). Basically, the goal is to diffuse the light multiple times to open it up.

4. Eliminate Shadows with More Light Sources

simulate natural light for athletic portraits 3 light pattern variations
Left to right: One light, two lights, three lights (24-70mm at 31mm, 1/200, f/4, ISO 400)

The reason we used three strobes, aside from providing more power, is that it allowed us to override the shadows that resulted from using a single light source (see the images above).

[Related Reading: Soft Box Vs. Umbrella | Comparing Two Common Lighting Modifiers]


To further demonstrate how well this technique works, here’s a quick look at some of the images we captured during the shoot. All final images have been edited with Visual Flow Modern Presets (Soft Light or Black & White).


We hope you enjoyed this article/video on how to create natural light indoors when there is no natural light. If you’re interested in learning more about how to use flash to create every natural light effect, be sure to check out our Lighting 4 Workshop, which is also part of our Flash Photography Training System.

Be sure to catch 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!