Photography Lighting
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Photography Lighting. As a photographer light is equivalent to the color palette of a painter. You need to understand your lighting conditions well in order to take great shots based on the current lighting situation that day.

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Photography Lighting

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  • Photography Lighting

As a photographer light is equivalent to the color palette of a painter. You need to understand your lighting conditions well in order to take great shots based on the current lighting situation that day.

  • Lighting, like other elements of composition help you place emphasis on subjects which are of more interests, while at the same time dimming light on objects which hold little important to the overall photograph.

  • Light and shadows can also create mood, draw your attention to a specific area, can modify a shape or can bring out texture in an object.

  • Shadows caused by lighting are also another key point of photography. They help create the illusion of 3 dimensions in a photograph. Without shadows your photograph would record without form, curvature and would appear lifeless and dull.

  • Backlighting

Backlighting is lighting which is exactly how it sounds. It’s lighting from the back of the subject. Backlighting can in some cases be a photographer’s friend and in other cases it can be a photographers worst enemy.

Backlighting usually causes the subject in the foreground to be underexposed, possibly even silhouetted, as the camera adjusts itself to be able to expose the bright background light properly.

  • Side Lighting

Obviously there are varying degrees as to which you can exaggerate the effects caused by side lighting.

Side lighting can also add a dramatic look to your photographs. With a side lit photograph one side of your subject’s body will be illuminated while the other side may be in total darkness.

  • You can alter the intensity of the shading by ensuring the dark side has very little lighting and the bright side has a lot of lighting.

  • You can also alter the dramatization of the effect by positioning the light at different angles.

  • Side Lighting

  • You can alter the intensity of the shading by ensuring the dark side has very little lighting and the bright side has a lot of lighting.

  • You can also alter the dramatization of the effect by positioning the light at different angles.

Rim Lighting

When light comes from an angle, it can create highlights along your object. On a portraiture photograph, the highlights can truly take shape and form. This type of lighting impacts macro photographs, and fine art photographs.

Ambient Light

Ambient light is a soft lighting method, with no direct path of lighting. Its result is creating an overall lightening instead of directing your light focus to one part of an image.

  • Two fundamental issues for lighting: the difference between shooting in hard and soft light.

Hard light produces well-defined, dark shadows and tends to originate from a single light source, which is usually either small or located far away.

  • In natural lighting conditions, hard light is produced on a sunny day when there is little or no cloud cover, and when the sun is high in the sky – which is something that is generally to be avoided, particularly by beginners.

  • Two fundamental issues for lighting: the difference between shooting in hard and soft light.

  • Shooting in other kinds of weather, e.g. cloudy days, foggy conditions, or even where there is air pollution, will produce soft light, as the sun’s rays are reflected or diffused by the particles in the air (moisture, pollution, etc.).

  • By contrast, soft light produces either soft shadows or no shadows at all. It can be generated from several light sources, by diffusing light using some kind of barrier, or by reflecting light off different surfaces so that the subject is hit from various angles.

In general, the size of the light source is inversely proportional to the hardness of the light, meaning that smaller light sources produce harder light.

Soft light, on the other hand, can be created using:

Reflectors: The action of reflecting light will essentially turn the reflector into a secondary light source. All kinds of things can be used as reflectors, whether shooting indoors or outdoors. These include professional reflectors or just sheets of paper.

Soft light, on the other hand, can be created using:

Diffusers: In natural lighting conditions, clouds are great examples of diffusers. In artificial lighting conditions, any semi-transparent material that diffuses or softens the light can be used. Lamp shades are a great example of light diffusion. When shooting, even a thin white cloth can be used.

Soft of Diffuse Light

This type of lighting reduces contrast and minimizes shadows. Soft light is excellent for portraiture photographs. To get a soft lighting situation, it works well if the photographer uses a soft box to diffuse the lighting. This causes the shadows to have a soft blur to them.

Both types of light have their own advantages and disadvantages.

Hard light can be used to create images with sharp contrasts and highlights, emphasizing shape and texture.

It can be used to enhance the 3D effect of an image and in general to create dramatic effects.

The choice of which type of light to use depends on the type of photography, the subject, and the desired effect, but soft light is usually the preferred choice, and it is certainly the safest choice for beginners.

  • Soft light, by contrast, creates lighting that is more even, and which better depicts the colors and shapes of the subject.

Hard Light

Hard light is quite direct and can often be intense in brightness. This type of lighting creates strong shadows and high contrast. Hard light can be stylistically applied to most any photographic genre, but for many eyes it can be less appealing than other types of lighting. Hard light is a great device to creating bold sections of a photograph.


Very simply Spot Light is when a focused amount of light highlights a particular section of your subject or scene. This type of lighting can create strong shadows and contrast. Spot light can add dramatic impact to all genres of photography.

Part 2

Artificial vs. Natural Light

  • Natural light

Natural light is less controllable, and varies greatly depending on numerous conditions such as time of day, season, weather, geographical location, and so on.

To its credit, it does not require any equipment other than anything that you may choose to use as a diffuser, reflector, etc.

The choice between using natural or artificial light is obviously more relevant for portrait or still life photography than it is for landscape or wildlife photography.

Factors affecting natural light

The weather

  • For example, a cloudy day will generate soft light and is usually preferred in photography, as mentioned earlier.

  • By softening the distant segments of an image, water vapor in the air generates a better feel of depth in landscape photography and often improves perspective.

  • By contrast, sunny lighting conditions will yield harder, brighter light with shadows that are more defined. However, this just scratches the surface.

  • Cloud cover is almost never even, and this leads to varying patterns in the intensity of light, both as it shines on objects and in the sky.

  • Weather phenomena such as storms and fog also alter the intensity and color of light. This can create shots that vary from being totally unusable to exceptional images with spectacular effects.

Factors affecting natural light

Time of day

One can usually get softer lighting conditions early or late in the day. This light is generally warmer, producing images with less contrast compared to when the sun is high up in the sky.

  • Additionally, during this time of day, the lighting conditions change rapidly, both in terms of intensity and color, and allow for shooting images that are far more varied, often within the space of minutes.

Sunrise and sunset are therefore often considered ideal times for photography, particularly for landscapes, people and so on. This time of day is referred to as the Golden Hour.

Shadows also change in shape and darkness, as the sun sets or rises, becoming longer and lighter as the sun sets and vice versa.

Factors affecting natural light


  • In general, the further one is from the equator, the more time it takes for the sun to climb or set. Therefore, the soft light conditions found in the early morning and late evening can last much longer in such areas, and conversely, they pass much faster when in close proximity to the equator.

Factors affecting natural light

Air pollution

  • Similarly to mist, clouds, and so on, pollution acts as a diffuser of sunlight as the beams of light are reflected and scattered by the airborne particles.

Factors affecting artificial light

  • Artificial light from different sources will yield different color heat signatures. For instance, halogen bulbs are colder and produce a light that is blue in color, while tungsten bulbs, being hotter, produce light with a reddish hue.

  • The challenges of using natural light are quite similar to those faced when shooting in artificial light. One must still understand how various light sources will act upon a subject and how to produce the desired effect.

Factors affecting natural light

  • When it comes down to controlling and manipulating light, there are many options within photography, whether one is dealing with artificial, natural, soft, or hard light.

It comes down to understanding how images are affected by different lighting conditions, setting up the desired lighting environment, adjusting your camera settings (e.g. the white balance), and post-processing your picture in programs such as Gimp or Photoshop.

Part 3

Light intensity & Depth of Field

When shooting a photograph, a certain amount of light will be required by the camera to create a picture on the digital sensor. The ISO (or chip sensitivity), the aperture setting, and the shutter speed will determine the amount of light that is required.

In this final section, We will discuss the significance of light intensity in photography, and what beginners need to know about it.


Increasing the ISO setting will make the sensor amplify the light, thereby allowing shots to be taken in darker conditions. However, higher ISO settings carry the drawback of producing more noise and leading to a picture that will appear “grainy”.

This is a rating of the light sensitivity of the digital camera’s sensor. In most cameras, this will typically range from 100-12800, with these numbers signifying the level of amplification that the sensor applies.

Lowering the ISO settings will yield a picture with less “noise”, but it will also require more light, and hence a longer exposure time.

This final photo was taken with an ISO of 1600. It was night time, indoors, and without changing the ISO I would have had to set the shutter speed so low that they would have been blurry. You can see a slight bit of graininess in the photo because of the high ISO.

This second photo was taken with an ISO of 200, in daylight, it was quite bright.

This first photo was taken indoors with window light, the ISO is 500, because it was still somewhat dim inside the room.

  • Shutter speed

When taking a picture, the shutter in front of the sensor is opened to allow light to reach it. The longer this shutter is left open, the more light will enter.

  • Long shutter speeds are useful at night when the camera will require more light to create the picture. For this reason, shooting at night will create more noise and therefore is improved by added camera stabilization (such as by using a tripod).

When shooting moving subjects, high shutter speeds are required so as to reduce the amount of movement during the time that the shutter is open


This is an opening through which light travels. The aperture is varied using a device called the diaphragm. A smaller aperture allows less light through the lens and, conversely, a larger aperture allows more light to reach the sensor.

  • Automatic Mode

  • In fully automatic mode, the aperture/shutter combination will be chosen by the camera, based on its perception of the most suitable settings for taking the photo.

This can produce decent results, but it is an approximation and rarely on par with pictures taken manually by a proficient photographer.

  • Taking control of the camera

The aperture settings can be selected in aperture priority mode, for example if one wishes to capture a certain Depth of Field. In this mode, the correct shutter speed will be calculated by the camera. In landscape photography, this is usually the preferred mode.

  • One can use the different camera modes depending on the style of photo that one is aiming for. The most common are shutter priority, aperture priority, and full manual mode (for the more experienced photographers).

shutter priority mode

  • In shutter priority mode, one will be able to choose the exposure time. When shooting moving subjects, such as in sports photography, choosing a high shutter speed is important so as to freeze the subject.

  • The photographer has full control of both the shutter and aperture settings in full manual mode. This will enable an experience photographer, who understands the effect of these settings, to precisely control the way each image is captured.

When shooting in night conditions, choosing a slow shutter speed is necessary so the sensor is able to collect enough light.

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