For many photographers, natural light is their only light source. When there is enough light, they take photographs. When there is a lack of light or bad lighting, they take bad photographs.
The reason to start light studies with electrical lights is to learn to get control over the light source. In studio photography, you have three options. 1) move the light 2) move the object 3) move the photographer. Where you stand, what you see, how the light hits it, are all factors in creating the photograph.
In natural light photography, we may find that one or more of the three factors is stationary. We can’t move the sun. If our “object” is a building, we can’t move it either. Usually, we can still move the photographer, but sometimes even that comes with limitations. For example, at the edge of the Niagara Falls you can walk near the edge but are limited to a strip of sidewalk.
So how do better photographers get better photographs, especially in a situation where you can’t move the light, can’t move the object, and have limitations for where the photographer can stand?
While I can’t move the sun, I do know that the sun itself moves across the sky giving us a different light at different times of the day. You can find apps that will tell you the sun’s position relative to your subject (let’s say a building) at any time of the day. An hour before sunrise, sunrise, and early morning have very different light compared to mid-afternoon and sunset. Bright diffused light with few shadows can be achieved on a bright but clearly overcast day. Stormy, angry skies produce yet another view.
In the business world there is a phrase “I’d rather been lucky than good.” As a photographer, serendipitous moments of fabulous light are our better lucky than good moments. For me, I’d rather be both lucky and good.
Interesting photographs start with better information. These apps can help you track natural light:
The Photographer’s Ephemeris
Note: when trying out a new app, I always start with a free version to be sure that I will use the app before investing.