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Natural light // Understanding the color of light

Light has different properties, this is a fact, and to further complete the subject addressed in one of the past posts, Natural Light: Quality of light, today we will talk a little about the color of natural light. So that by understanding this you will surely become a better photographer. 

Understanding the color of natural light

In this chapter we will see:

  • Explore how color can affect emotional response.
  • Understand how the color of natural light changes throughout the day.
  • Learn how to mix light colors to create depth.

Colors as visual elements building a story

What we perceive as color is nothing more than our brain’s interpretation of light reflected in some object or surface, which is transmitted to the brain by optic nerves.

Under the realm of color psychology, a number of studies have shown that colors can profoundly affect how we experience the world around us, from the taste of the food we eat, to how we respond to brand new packaging on supermarket shelves.

Colors affect how we feel, and that’s precisely why understanding is color is so important to you as a photographer.

There are many ways to control or change colors in your images, such as by editing, using filters, or adjusting the white balance.

But today’s subject is natural light, so that’s why we’re going to delve into this subject and learn how to create a more emotional response by using the right color of natural light.

natural light

As “color” is an amorphous concept in a way, after all everything we see can vary slightly in tone, there is no wood to define precisely such a hue, so we work with the concept of color temperature.

Discussing the technical definition of color temperature will be a waste of time for two reasons:

  1. You’re going to be sleepy
  2. And such a concept will not make you shoot better

The most important thing to learn here about color temperature is your measurement pattern, Kelvin degrees, and now you just find out what that “K” symbol means in the white balance adjustment on your camera.

From there we have the following:

  • Color temperature below 4000K is considered warm (colors in red and yellow)
  • Temperatures above 4000K are considered cold colors (blue)
natural light

Planning is necessary

In the previous article, Natural Light: The quality of light, you learned to forget the concept of good or bad lighting, and think in terms such as more appropriate or less adequate light.

And now of course we need to continue this whole matter, and in the same way as in the last article, here there is the most appropriate and the least appropriate. So knowing how natural light changes during the course of the day is your main planning factor.

Bluish Light (11000K)

natural light

This type of natural light can be found before sunrise and also after it sets.

It usually generates a melancholy and mysterious effect, and brings the feeling of coldness.

When you go out to photograph and are in such conditions in an urban environment, try mixing the natural light bluish, from dawn or dusk, with the artificial light, orange, of public lighting, this will create a combination of lights well banana and will bring more depth to the frame.

Caution: Due to the low light level during this time of day, pay close attention to the shutter speed to avoid blurry images.

Golden light or golden light (3500K)

This one depends a little on your geographic positioning. But usually natural light with such color can be found at sunrise and sunset.

Here the emotional effect is well known to photographers, who even nicknamed this moment Golden Hour or Magic Hour. It is very close to a pastel painting with your colors, warm shades of red and yellow.

Portraits taken during this hour seem full of magic and very welcoming.

natural light

Portraits can look very good using natural sunrise light as the only source of illumination.

Note that for magic to happen you need to be present, so if you plan to shoot during this period, plan your schedule as you will have to wake up early, very early.

Noon Light (5000 to 6500K)

This type of natural light also depends on its geographical location, in most places it is quite common about 1 hour after sunrise as well as 1 hour after it goes down.

The emotional effect is quite neutral, even though it is considered a cold color, in terms of Degrees Kelvin.

A nice thing about this type of natural light is that it will enlarge the colors of objects and bring a very nice contrast level to the photo.

natural light

Cloudy day (7000K)

Well here it’s pretty simple to define when. When the day is cloudy. It is a type of natural light that generates an emotional effect similar to bluish light but with a slightly sadder feeling.

Because it is a slightly stronger light, than bluish light, you can use faster shutter speed.

natural light

One of the biggest advantages of working with this type of natural light is constancy, because its tone does not change much during the day, which means that you can work in less haste and pay more attention to your compositions.

Mixing light colors

Like all the rules we’ve learned, these are only for one thing to be broken, in this case mixed.

You will achieve very nice results with the mixture of cold natural light and colors. By putting warm colors in the foreground and the cool colors in the background for example, the contract and depth can surprise you.

Also working between the times of changes of the type of natural light will also yield you great photos.

You’ll be matching golden hour colors, warm colors like gold, with cool evening colors.

natural light

Mixing natural and artificial light

You can also choose to make a mix of natural and artificial lighting. In the following photo we see this. The lady was illuminated with an orange shop lamp in how much the rest was just the natural light of a cloudy day.

natural light

Or in this where are mixed the hot light of the torches with the cold blue projector lighting behind them.

natural light

For now this is it, soon I appear here with another post. Meanwhile if you like it let your comment and share in your timelime!

Written by Rix Mascarenhas

Rix Mascarenhas is a photographer, videographer, and drone pilot at

Art lover, always involved with crafts, design, painting etc... As a photographer, I enjoy taking pictures and creating stories that have meaning and help people to thrive. My work is guided by the stories behind each scene that really represent the moment.


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