Mastering natural light can take a lifetime of practice, but there is one type of natural light that will produce amazing results in almost any situation: I call it “cave lighting.”
Cave lighting is produced when your subject is in a dark “cave”, looking towards the bright cave entrance. This will produce a soft, bright light on the tip of the nose, cheeks and forehead, while creating beautiful shadows on the sides of the face and body. Luckily, you don’t need a literal cave to pull this off; you just need to block the light from reaching your subject from above and from the sides.
The easiest way to turn off this lighting is to place your subject in a dark exterior doorway. Make sure it’s dark inside your door frame so that the only light hitting your subject is coming from outside, directly in front of them. Ideally, you don’t want direct sunlight hitting your subject. You will get the best results with the soft light of a clear or cloudy sky.
Once you get used to this style of lighting, you’ll start to notice opportunities to use it on location or in nature. Simply find a location to place your subject where they are lit from the front while the light is blocked above and to either side of them. I do this most often when shooting with tree cover: I simply move my subject to the edge of the woods.
To achieve this in the studio, you can simply place a large softbox directly above your camera with some sort of fill underneath. If your studio space is small, you may need to add some sort of negative fill (black cards or fabric) to keep the light from bouncing around the room and hitting the sides of your subject.
In many cases, I prefer to light men a little differently than women, but with this way of lighting, I think it works well for all subjects. It’s soft, classic lighting that will never go out of style.
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