Comparing Natural Light and Strobes, Can You Tell the Difference?

An ongoing debate among photographers from all backgrounds is that of natural vs artificial light. Both options have their pitfalls and qualities worth praising, but even so, it seems like some photographers are hesitant to put a subject in front of a strobe if natural light is available.

But as shown in this video put together by Felix Kunze and Sue Bryce for CreativeLive, when used correctly, strobes can almost perfectly replicate the look of natural light. Kunze and Bryce compare identical model setups side-by-side using both natural and strobe lighting as an exercise in showing off the differences and similarities between the two.

One of these is shot with natural light, the other with a strobe. Can you tell which is which? (Answer at the bottom)

One of these is shot with natural light, the other with a strobe. Can you tell which is which? (Answer at the bottom)

As they venture further into the video, they not only compare natural light to strobes, but also speedlights. Bryce notes that, while you won’t get the same quality of light with a speedlight as a strobe, it’s still a good first step. Plus, if you can create good light with a speedlight, creating great light with a strobe and even natural light will come easier.

Coming in at just over six minutes, it’s a quick watch with plenty of helpful tips and insight for beginner strobist. Press play and be ready to take notes.

(via Picture Correct)

Answer: Natural light left, strobe light right.

  • David Shama

    My god it’s all so bad

  • Lufkin

    Strobe images looks overdone and americanized.
    Natural light versions looks much better (but WB is waay off).
    ISO6400 digital and raw is NOISE. Not grain… just sayin’

  • Roger Coelho

    I was disappointing in the CreativeLive session. I was hoping to see a more creative use of strobes vs trying to mimic available light. Plus, I saw some things that made me cringe. I have a huge amount of respect for Sue, but – as an example – adding an ND filter to shoot at a higher ISO for the noise is bad form. Shoot at a lower ISO for the detail and add noise in post. It is always better to have more detail in the RAW image.

  • Tooki

    All i see is the white balance difference.

  • Ron Greer

    americanized??? what has culture to do with the subject. Does the strobe image look better if shot with a Swedish or Swiss light?

  • Mr Hogwallop

    It seemed like a solution in search of a question. Is there natural light in a studio? Maybe some BTS shots of the set up would help round out the story. The part about shooting after the kids go to bed was perplexing, I liked Sue’s “why are you interrupting me with this” look…

  • Mr Hogwallop

    Americanized is an odd term, maybe you could explain…or give examples?

  • Vin Weathermon

    A pretty stupid cache of comments. Just sayin’.

  • Daniel Pryce

    Catch lights and the separation and shape of the subject really make the image with the strobe stand out.

  • Nick Fancher

    I’d hate to be your student. I don’t see anything wrong with these images. Quite lovely, in fact.

  • Brian Dowling

    Would make sense to post the before images. I can easily take an ISO400 and ISO1600 photo and retouch them to look the same in websize. So, what’s the point of this anyways?

  • Tooki

    I was exaggerating. My point was that the white balance is so different that it’s by far the most outstanding difference and kind of negates the fairness of the experiment.

  • Steve Stoddart

    I love to use natural light when I can… the problem is it is a gamble to rely on it!! Certainly, this is the case in the UK…

    That said, if it is there, I use it… If it ain’t, out come the Bowens :-)

    There seem to be some fairly polemical comments here about the video… For me, it was a simple prompt to remember natural light as an option with no implied suggestion that one was better than other..

  • adam

    The most glaring differences were the white balance issues. And to be honest, you can mimic the way daylight falls on a subject if you have the right modifier (in fact modifiers give you the freedom to choose how you want the light to fall onto your subject).. Also how daylight falls on a subject is subjective (I might have a small window, you might have a large one, I might get direct sunlight, you might get bounced sunlight). I shoot with Natural light 90% of my career, but I learned on strobes, and sometimes that comes in handy when doing corporate portraits, or anything that requires me to shoot indoors with an f/stop above what I’d consider fast.. As in, corporate portraits where I’m shooting at f/11 (not saying you have to, but I do).

    It would have been a much more interesting video if they showed HOW they got similarities in each lighting situation. As in, show us the modifies and show us the natural light.. THAT and did you diffuse the natural light? As at one point I heard her mention she did, which means she “modified” the natural light, thus not making it natural anymore right?!

    Overall good photos though, nothing really wrong with them when viewed in youtube.

  • Ashevillian

    Forget which one is the strobe shot… WHO STANDS LIKE THAT???? Get that woman a back brace! And for god’s sake, guys, please stop posing your models like sex dolls.

  • Anton Berlin

    If I could down vote you a million times I would. The chick is hot.

  • Bruce Thiel

    Natural light is great if you have the luxury of being able to shoot at a good time and location but few of us do so it is essential to be able to create that look with strobes or continuous light sources. A good photog should be able to do both. Also why do they use an anorexic model in bra and undies? Thanks for re enforcing stereotypes! I expect better from petapixel!!

  • Ashevillian

    Oh, I’m sorry. Did I momentarily interrupt your fantasy of her desirability and availability by pointing out that no one stands that way for more than a moment without developing crippling back pain? My bad.

  • Brandon Rechten

    Speaking of “NOISE,” this comment is a good example…

  • Edgar Allan Bro

    What you’ve just said… is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

  • Linda Wisdom

    The strobe images have better separation and shapes yes, the natural light is a bit limp. But if you know how to work with natural light you can get good results.