How to Take Great Photos When There's No Natural Light

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Adapted from a post originally published in 2017.

I'm pretty sure that Daylight Savings Time is the scourge of all bloggers. Fall and winter are great seasons, but they're also gloomy and the days are short. But fear not, your Instagram feed does not have to suffer until spring! Here are some tips for making the most of the dark season and still managing to take great photos.

Find as much natural light as you can.

Okay I know the title of this is “how to take great photos when there’s NO natural light” but stick with me. Even on the gloomiest of days, there is always some natural light to be found. What I mean here is - go toward the light. If you have to take photos inside, set up your photos directly in front of the window if you have to. Half the time I’m dragging backgrounds or coffee tables over to the window in my living room to squeeze some extra light out of the situation.

If you can't get your own sunlight, store bought is okay.

That being said, sometimes natural light needs a little help. I recently purchased a shoot-through umbrella light kit for $30 on Amazon, and it's a GAME CHANGER. Basically it uses a lightbulb and a white reflecting umbrella to enhance the natural light without making it look yellowy or washed out like when you use a lamp. It’s not going to magically make up for zero sunlight (aka you probably can’t use it in the dead of night and expect similar results) but it really helps to even out shadows from a gloomy day.

If you have a DSLR, shoot in raw.

I actually think you can shoot in raw with other kinds of cameras or possibly even your iPhone, but don’t quote me on this. But if you have a nicer camera, make sure that it’s set to shoot in raw. Basically what this means, is that instead of shooting .JPGs which seriously compress your photos and leave out a lot of the data, raw will record all kinds of extra data. Without getting too technical here, it means that you’re able to do a lot more to the photo in post-editing to save exposure and shadows. Here’s a side by side of a photo that I shot in raw that was basically pitch black, and how I was able to salvage it with Lightroom editing.

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Editing is your friend.

Seriously, editing is huge. And I'd like to stress that you should EDIT and not just FILTER your photos. Filters and presets can be great to add a finishing touch or some unique coloring to your photos, but you should learn how to actually edit. And I don't necessarily mean using Photoshop or Lightroom, but just learning basic settings in VSCO Cam can be game-changing.

For dark photos, bump up the exposure, temperature and shadows to soften it and make it look less cold and dark. If there’s a blue tint to your photo because of the cooler temperature, bump up the temperature towards the warm side to bring life back into it. Play around with the colors, saturation, contrast, etc. to get it how you really want it. Miracles can happen in photo editing!

Take photos in batches.

If you have a rare sunny day or are able to find some great natural light, take advantage of it while you can! Set aside a couple hours and shoot as many photos as you can. That’s also a great way to get your photos to look especially consistent for Instagram too. Shooting in the same light and conditions makes your work easier on the backend.

How do you combat dark photos?