Understanding Lighting in Photography

Arguably, lighting is the most important aspect of photography.

Without proper lighting, you are almost guaranteed to not get a good shot.

There are ways to manipulate the lighting so that you can get it how you want. In a lot of photoshoots, you’ll probably notice more adjustments of the lights than anything else.

This is because most professional photographers know that having good lighting is going to help make the shot.

They know that without any good lighting, they have no chance of getting what they want out of the pictures they take.

Good lighting in your pictures doesn’t mean you’re going to have a good picture, but it does help set you up for the most success with your picture.

Photography Lighting

Getting your lighting right can be one of the hardest things to do. You can set everything up in a way that you think will be good, then see that everything is off once you look through the camera.

It takes time to set up lighting. Your lighting setup is going to be different all the time, regardless of what you’re taking pictures of.

Whether you’re outside or inside, the lighting setup will be different.

There are different types of lights that you need to be aware of as well.

There are so many factors that go into lighting that a lot of amateur photographers aren’t going to recognize. It’s a lot more than turning on the light above your head and having it perfect.

You need to know exactly how to position lights, the different type of lights, and a few other factors before you can say you actually understand photography lighting.

Even then, you still shouldn’t consider yourself an expert because the variables are always changing depending on the type of photography and your subject.

Light Positioning

The position of your lighting can change everything about the composition and perspective of your photos.

For example, if you’re taking a picture that’s looking directly into the sun, you’re going to get a silhouette with your subject.

When you take a picture with the sun directly behind you, you’ll be able to clearly see your subject.

That 180-degree difference in the sun makes a massive difference with how the picture looks. This is for all lighting. Positioning your lights differently makes all the difference.

Front Lighting

Front lighting is going to allow your subject to be fully lit from the front. The light is directly behind you, the photographer.

You’re able to see a lot more details because the light is shining directly on the subject.

When this happens, there are no shadows that can cover the details in the subject. All of the shadows are going to fall behind the subject.

When there aren’t any shadows to cover the subject at all, you get to see everything the subject has to offer.

This is the simplest type of lighting to shoot, but the downside is that it doesn’t necessarily add much to the photo. The subject has to do everything.

Front lighting can cause your pictures to turn out a little bland depending on your subject.

Side Lighting

Side lighting is when the light source is hitting the subject from the side. Sounds pretty straight forward.

With side lighting, you’re going to be able to create more shadows which will help add more depth to your photos. When you have more depth, you have a picture that doesn’t seem flat at all.

When you’re using side lighting, the light source doesn’t have to be at a direct 90-degree angle. As long as the light is on the side of the subject, you have some side lighting.

This is critical to remember because if you’re constantly trying to keep the light source at a 90-degree angle to the subject, the shadows of the subject may turn out to be a little weird.

You don’t want your shadows to cover the crucial details of your subject.

Because of this, it’s important to play around with side lighting. Move the angle of the light source. This is going to give you different shadows.

If you play around with the shadows enough, you’re going to get the ones you want to see so that your picture turns out as good as possible.

Back Lighting

Backlighting is always going to be the trickiest lighting to work with.

If you don’t want to have a silhouette every single time you use backlighting, then you are going to struggle with it if you don’t fully understand how to use your camera.

Once you develop your skills in photography a bit more, you’re going to notice that backlighting can actually help you create amazing images.

It’s going to allow you to show certain things glowing. Subjects will appear to have that heavenly glow behind them when you finally know how to work with backlighting.

With front lighting, you have all the shadows behind the subject. With backlighting, all the shadows are going to be in front of the subject.

This is why you’ll get a silhouette most of the time.

This is also why it’s one of the more difficult things to work with in photography when you want to have something that goes beyond a simple silhouette.

Soft Light vs. Hard Light

Seeing this may really cause you to think. Mostly because if you ask the average person walking down the street, they probably haven’t heard of soft light and harsh light. They just know about light in general.

This is also why it’s so hard to just jump into photography and be good at it. There are many different things that you need to understand.

Have you ever been walking on the sidewalk and noticed your shadow? How dark was the shadow? Was it very dark or somewhat light?

All of that really depends on how soft or hard the light is that’s shining on you.

There is a difference between the two. Not all light is shined on you the same way. This goes for whether you’re inside or outside.

Hard light and soft light may sometimes seem like subtle things but they can make a huge difference in your photography.

Soft Light

Soft light will give you a subtle transition between the light and dark areas in your photos.

Because the dark areas aren’t going to be as dark throughout the photo due to the soft light, you’re not going to lose a lot of details, even in the shadows.

However, a soft light may not be as crisp. You’ll have a smoother image all around.

Using soft light is much better for beginners to start with because it’s easier to work with.

When you’re just beginning photography, you should only work with soft light until you’re ready to take your skills up a notch.

Hard Light

When you’re using hard light, you’re going to produce a harsher shadow. Meaning the shadows are going to be darker.

Hard light really refers to the transition between the light and dark areas. However, you can really tell a hard light from the way you can create a darker shadow.

People don’t often like to use a hard light because they tend to use it incorrectly. When it’s used, people will usually tend to get shadows where they don’t want them.

When you use hard light correctly, you’re going to be able to create a lot more contrast in your images. Sometimes you don’t want to have a smooth transition between elements in your pictures. Sometimes you’re going to want your elements to stand out on their own.

This is what hard light can do for your images when you use it correctly.

Sources and Diffusers

Typically, larger light sources tend to make softer light while smaller light sources tend to make harder light.

A flashlight, for example, will tend to make hard light. When you hold a flashlight directly under your chin, the shadows that are created are very dark with little transition between them and the light.

Something that has a small beam of light will tend to make a hard light. Whereas sources of light that are very broad and have a wide range will make a soft light.

Distance is something that can determine how hard or soft a light is as well. Take the flashlight and move it back and forth. You’ll notice how the color of the shadows tend to change.

This is a hard light going to a soft light and vice versa.

Diffusers also play a role in how hard or soft a light is.

When you think about the sun on a cloudy day compared to a day that isn’t cloudy, the sun creates different shadows.

The clouds tend to act as a diffuser for the sun, thus making it a softer light.

In studio photography, there are diffusers that photographers use all the time to put over their big lights so that it’s much softer on the subject.

Think back to your early school days. Whenever it was a picture day, you probably noticed the photographer using an umbrella where the light is. That light made a very bright flash.

You probably never understood why the umbrella was there. It was an odd place to have an umbrella since you just know an umbrella to be used for the rain.

Well, the umbrella acted as a diffuser so the light source from the flash wouldn’t be too hard, even though you still feel like you went temporarily blind when the flash happened.

Soft boxes are something else that can be used as a diffuser.

If you don’t have any materials that can act as a diffuser, try bouncing the light source off something. For example, use the wall as a diffuser.

Point the light at the wall and it should bounce off the wall and light your subject with a much softer light.

There are many different sources of light, but it depends on how you play around with it whether it’ll be a hard light or soft light.

If you want some recommendations on different lights that you can use, I’m here to help.

The Aputure LS C120d light paired with the Aputure Light Dome Mini II is the perfect example of a studio type of light that can be used for any situation.

The Aputure Amaran is a smaller light but still packs a powerful punch and is easier to travel with.

The same goes for the Yongnuno Digital YN3000 Pro LED Video Light. Powerful, yet small enough to let you carry it around with ease.

Color Temperature

If you’ve seen any number of lights, hopefully you’ve noticed how some lights are different colors than others.

This is going to play a huge role in your understanding of lights and what to use in your photography.

A light bulb can come in a lot of different colors. When you look at a light bulb by itself, it’s going to look like it’s producing a white light.

However, when you place a regular light bulb next to an led light, you’re going to notice a huge difference in color.

Typically, your camera’s white balance will correct the color automatically.

This automatic white balance will help make white objects white in your photos but that doesn’t mean that’s exactly how you want them to be.

Sometimes you may want to create a different feel in your photos. Adjusting things can give your photo a different hue to them.

The slightest change in this hue can really change the entire feel of the photo.

Whether you’re using artificial light, studio lights, or the sun, you can always adjust your white balance in a way that will help you change the feel of your photo.

You can keep your subjects white or you can adjust them to a more red or blue, creating a completely different outlook on the photo.

Importance of Lighting

Lighting is extremely important. If it’s not the most important aspect of photography then it’s easily top 2.

When you really start to appreciate the lighting you need for your photos, you’ll be able to take that next step in photography.

You’ll start getting the right lighting equipment that you can carry around everywhere. You’ll get the light reflectors that you need.

There’s going to be a lighting set that you see online and you’ll understand exactly how it can help you.

The camera flash isn’t the only lighting that you need to be aware of. When it comes to photography lighting, there are so many aspects that you need to do what you can to understand as much as you can.

Because a simple flash of the camera usually isn’t going to do the job.

You can do a lot more with what you’re given. Don’t be afraid to play around with the lights and lighting conditions that you’re given.

By making adjustments and seeing how things work with lighting, you’ll be able to see how all kinds of lighting works for you in the long run.