The word “photography” comes from two Greek words meaning “light” and “drawing”, together meaning “drawing with light”.

Without light it would be hard to create a photograph. Learning to use natural light effectively and understanding how the light works is essential for all photographers.

We take photos with the aim to tell stories, to convey a mood and an atmosphere, to communicate to the viewer what it was like to be there at that exact moment. By finding the best light and angle to a subject before clicking your shutter can help you take your image to the next level.

I’ve outlined five steps you can take to improve the way you use natural light in your photography without spending a penny.

1. Expose for the highlights

When exposing your photo, look for the brightest part of the frame and expose for that. If you opt to expose for the shadows, especially in a high contrast situation like middle of the day sun, your highlights will be blown out and most likely unrecoverable in the editing process. Overexposed images like this are unpleasing to the eye and pull the viewer from your desired subject.

Choosing to expose for the highlights creates a more pleasing image with good tones that don’t distract the viewer. If exposing for the highlights does not work in highlighting your subject as the focus of the image, consider moving your subject so the light falls as you desire on them/it.

The LCD monitor on the back of your camera is a great tool to use when checking your images for focus and composition, but when it comes to determining exposure, using the LCD can be somewhat deceiving. I always make sure that Highlight Alert setting (“blinkies”) is enabled. It will show to you where the overexposed/blown out areas in your images are located. The image preview blinks in areas that are completely white and have no detail.