Have you ever tried to shoot totally outdoors? There are so many things to think about and so many things to tackle.

I've worked on a few movies and commercials that shot exclusively outdoors, and watching directors and cinematographers deal with the elements is no joke.

One of the most important aspects of achieving this is through the use of natural lighting.

In film and TV, natural lighting refers to the light that is available in a scene without the need for any additional artificial sources. This can include sunlight, moonlight, and even the ambient light from streetlights or buildings.

This kind of lighting brings realism to whatever you make. The use of natural lighting in film and TV can create a more authentic atmosphere, as well as provide unique and interesting visual effects.

I called a few directors and cinematographer friends to chat about how to handle these situations.

So how do the experts shoot this way?

Let's dive in.

Why Work with Natural Light?

Want to be able to see what happens on screen? Then natural light is your best friend.

When shooting on location, especially in remote and outdoor settings, natural lighting can be both a blessing and a challenge. The use of natural light allows for a more immersive and believable environment, as it is the light that we see and experience in our everyday lives. Additionally, relying on natural lighting can save time and resources, as there is no need to set up and break down extensive lighting equipment.

The sun is free, and you don't have to plug it in. It's just there.

However, shooting in remote and outdoor locations also presents its own set of challenges, as the availability and quality of natural light can be unpredictable and uncontrollable. Weather conditions, time of day, and surrounding elements can all impact the light in a scene.

As a filmmaker, it is essential to understand the basics of natural lighting and develop techniques to manage and manipulate it to your advantage.

Tips for Managing Outdoor Shoots in Film and TVShooting the ocean scene for 'The Little Mermaid'Credit: Netflix

Understanding the Basics of Natural Lighting

Before diving into specific techniques and tips for managing natural lighting, it is important to have a basic understanding of what natural lighting is and the different types of light that can be encountered during remote and outdoor shoots.

Natural light is the light that is available in the environment without the use of artificial sources, such as studio lights, flash units, or LED panels.

There are two main types of natural light that can be encountered during remote and outdoor shoots: direct sunlight and indirect sunlight.

Direct sunlight is the light that comes straight from the sun and creates harsh shadows and high contrast in a scene. Indirect sunlight, on the other hand, is the light that has been scattered and diffused by the atmosphere or other objects, such as clouds, buildings, or trees. This type of light is generally softer and more even, with less contrast and more gradual transitions between light and shadow.

Tips for Managing Outdoor Shoots in Film and TVr'Barry Lyndon' behind the scenesCredit: Warner Bros.

Techniques for Managing Natural Lighting in Film

Now that we have a basic understanding of natural lighting, let's explore some techniques for managing and manipulating it in remote and outdoor shoots.

One of the most important aspects of working with natural light is planning. As a filmmaker, you should always be aware of the position of the sun and the quality of the light throughout the day. This can help you schedule your shoot to take advantage of the best natural lighting conditions.

Sure, things can change, but planning your time based on weather and light patterns keeps you on track.

Another crucial technique is learning how to use the available light to your advantage. This can involve positioning your subjects and camera angles to make the most of the light in the scene. For example, shooting with the sun at your subject's back can create beautiful rim lighting, while shooting with the sun in front of your subject can produce a more even and flattering light.

Finally, don't be afraid to experiment with the light in your scene. Try using different camera settings, such as aperture and shutter speed, to manipulate the exposure and create interesting visual effects. You can also use reflective surfaces, such as mirrors or whiteboards, to bounce and redirect the light in a scene.

Tips for Managing Outdoor Shoots in Film and TV'Midsommar'Credit: A24

Capturing the Perfect Shot Using Natural Light

The key to capturing the perfect shot using natural light is all about understanding the quality of the light and how it interacts with your subject and the environment. As a filmmaker, you should constantly be observing and analyzing the light in your scene, making adjustments and decisions based on the specific conditions and your desired visual outcome.

One important aspect of capturing the perfect shot using natural light is understanding how the color temperature of the light can affect the mood and atmosphere of the scene. The color temperature of natural light can vary greatly depending on the time of day, weather conditions, and location.

For example, sunlight during the "golden hour" (the hour before sunset or after sunrise -- sometimes called "Magic Hour" as well) tends to be warmer and more golden in tone, while light on an overcast day can be cooler and more diffused.

Another important factor to consider is the direction of the light and how it interacts with your subject.

Experiment with different camera angles and subject positions to create interesting and dynamic lighting effects. For example, side lighting can help to emphasize texture and depth, while backlighting can create dramatic silhouettes and rim lighting.

Don't be afraid to use shadows to your advantage. Shadows can help to create a sense of depth and dimension, as well as add visual interest and contrast to a scene. Experiment with different lighting scenarios and techniques to find the perfect balance between light and shadow for your shot.

Babylon_0"Golden hour" in 'Babylon'Credit: Paramount Pictures

Lighting Exteriors: Tips and Tricks for Outdoor Shoots

When it comes to lighting exteriors for remote and outdoor shoots, there are several tips and tricks that can help you achieve stunning visuals. First and foremost, always be aware of the position of the sun and how it will impact your scene.

For example, shooting at different times of day can greatly impact the quality and color of the light, as well as the direction and intensity of shadows.

Another important tip for lighting exteriors is to use the environment to your advantage.

Look for natural reflectors, such as bodies of water, light-colored buildings, or even the ground, to help bounce and diffuse light into your scene. Additionally, consider using the natural elements in your location, such as trees or buildings, to create interesting shadows and patterns.

When shooting exteriors, it is also important to consider the contrast between the foreground and background of your scene. If your subject is backlit by the sun, you may need to use a reflector or additional lighting equipment to balance the exposure and ensure that your subject is properly lit.

Lastly, don't be afraid to experiment with different camera settings and techniques to create unique and interesting visual effects.

For example, using a longer shutter speed can help to capture the movement of clouds or water, while adjusting the aperture can help to create a shallow depth of field and draw focus to your subject.

Tree-of-life-2011-1200-1200-675-675-crop-000000_0'Tree of Life'Credit: Fox Searchlight

Overcoming Challenges of Natural Lighting in Remote Locations

Shooting in remote locations can present a unique set of challenges when it comes to managing natural lighting. Limited access to electricity, unpredictable weather conditions, and rapidly changing light can all make it difficult to achieve consistent and high-quality lighting in your scenes.

However, with careful planning and preparation, it is possible to overcome these challenges and create stunning visuals using natural lighting.

One of the most important aspects of shooting in remote locations is being prepared for the unpredictable. Always have a backup plan in case the weather or lighting conditions change unexpectedly. This can involve having alternative locations or shooting plans, as well as carrying extra equipment, such as reflectors, diffusers, or portable LED lights.

Another important tip for overcoming the challenges of natural lighting in remote locations is to be adaptable and flexible. Be prepared to make changes to your shooting schedule or plans based on the available light and weather conditions. This can involve adjusting your shooting times, relocating to a different area, or even changing the focus of your scene.

Remember that the challenges of shooting in remote locations can also lead to unique and unexpected visual opportunities.

Embrace the unpredictable nature of natural lighting and use it to your advantage to create visually stunning and compelling stories.

Naru_from_prey'Prey'Credit: Hulu

Enhancing Natural Lighting with Equipment and Tools

While natural lighting can provide beautiful and unique visuals, sometimes it may be necessary to enhance or manipulate the light using additional equipment and tools. This can involve using reflectors, diffusers, or even portable LED lights to help control and shape the light in your scene.

Reflectors are a simple and effective tool for enhancing natural lighting in film and TV. They can be used to bounce and redirect light onto your subject or into specific areas of the scene. Reflectors come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and materials, including silver, gold, and white, which can each produce different effects and intensities of light.

Diffusers are another useful tool for managing natural lighting. They can be used to soften and spread the light in a scene, reducing harsh shadows and creating a more even and flattering light. Diffusers can be made from a variety of materials, such as fabric, paper, or plastic, and can be easily attached to windows, light fixtures, or even held by hand.

Finally, portable LED lights can be a valuable asset when shooting in remote and outdoor locations. These lights are lightweight, battery-powered, and can be easily adjusted to match the color temperature and intensity of the natural light in the scene. They can be used to fill in shadows, add highlights, or even create additional light sources when the natural light is not sufficient.

Beasts_of_the_southern_wild_0Ben Richardson on the set of 'Beasts of the Southern Wild'Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Examples of Natural Lighting in Film and TV

Throughout the history of film and TV, there have been many examples of successful and innovative use of natural lighting to create stunning visuals and compelling stories.

  • Days of Heaven (1978): directed by Terrence Malick, is renowned for its breathtaking use of natural lighting, particularly during the golden hour. Cinematographers Néstor Almendros and Haskell Wexler used the warm, golden light of the sun to create a dreamlike and ethereal atmosphere that beautifully complemented the film's story and themes.
  • The Revenant(2015): directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and shot by Emmanuel Lubezki, was filmed almost entirely using natural lighting in remote and harsh outdoor locations. The use of natural light helped to create an immersive and realistic environment, as well as provide unique and dynamic lighting effects that added to the tension and drama of the film.
  • Moonlight (2016): directed by Barry Jenkins and shot by James Laxton, utilizing a mix of natural lighting and practical lighting to create a unique and intimate atmosphere. The use of natural lighting, particularly during nighttime scenes, helped to create a sense of realism and authenticity that added to the emotional impact of the film.

What is the Plot of a Story? (Definition and Examples)'Moonlight'Credit: A24

Summing Up Mastering Natural Lighting for Stunning Visuals

Mastering natural lighting is an essential skill for any filmmaker looking to create compelling and visually stunning productions, particularly for remote and outdoor shoots. Understanding the basics of natural lighting, developing techniques for managing and manipulating it, and using additional equipment and tools when necessary can all help to create unique and immersive environments that enhance the overall storytelling.

By constantly observing and analyzing the light in your scenes, experimenting with different camera settings and techniques, and embracing the challenges and opportunities of shooting in remote locations, you can master natural lighting and create truly unforgettable visuals in your film and TV productions.

Let me know any tips you want to add in the comments.