It doesn’t matter if you use a box camera or a Leica, the important thing is what motivates you when you are photographing. What I have tried to do is involve the people I was photographing. To have them realize without saying so, that it was up to them to give me whatever they wanted to give me… if they were willing to give, I was willing to photograph. – Eve Arnold
One of the great aspects of working with natural light is that it is not pretentious. One does not have to create an environment for the photograph that is daunting, fearful, or incites anxiety. Many people get quite nervous enough the moment I pull my camera from its bag. For those people, there’s almost always an instance in their past where someone has criticized how they looked in a picture. The comment, at the time, may well have been innocuous, but the emotional effect was lasting. Other people, though, see the camera and come alive in ways we might not have expected. That seemingly shy, quiet person steps in front of a camera and has suddenly found a voice no one knew they had.
Working with natural light enhances communication by allowing one to feel more comfortable about expressing themselves. Studios too often have a sterile, business-like feeling to them and that is certainly appropriate for some situations. But when one is looking for a photograph that communicates, that implies a story, that tells us something about the subject, the best setting is that which is most natural to the subject: a barn, a living room, a kitchen, a field, or any other number of places that are not a studio.
I firmly believe that taking pictures, especially portraits, in natural light gives people more freedom to open up and express themselves, but how the photographer responds is just as critical. People begin communicating with their bodies the moment they walk through the door and it’s the photographer’s job to watch and interpret that non-verbal message. If a person is excited then plug into their anticipation and run with it. Where we see anxiety requires a more careful, less hurried, and cautious approach. It is up to the photographer to introduce the subject to the light, to let them become acquainted and comfortable with how it feels. Take your time. Find this is a safe place with no judgment outside your own. Now, talk.
By the end of a productive session, the photographer and their subject have created a sort of casual intimacy; certainly not as deep as lovers, but at least slightly more than passing friends. We have shared a moment of expression, perhaps one that the person we’re photographing has not expressed before, and may never do so again. The photographs capture a special moment that do more than present an image, but preserve a story. Natural light helps those moments feel real and fresh every time we look at the pictures. Nothing fancy required. Just light.