Photography Lighting: How To Use Light To Shoot Great Photos
The playful relationship between light and darkness is the basis of all great photographs. Without the two working harmoniously together, photographs could not exist. Too much light washes out your images and too much darkness obscures them.
Between the two extremes you have an infinite middle ground to play in. The different combinations of light sources and shadows is what creates mood, softness, depth, drama, emotion plus much more in all your images.
Being able to set the right balance between light and dark in your photos is what photography lighting is all about. Once you understand how to work with and/or control the light in your photographs, you instantly improve the quality of them.
Now the great thing is you don’t have to master the whole topic of lighting to produce great images. You can start just one area, like natural light, and go from there. This site is full of expert photography tutorials showing you how to use light in your pictures.
There are however 4 main aspects to photography lighting you should know about and they are:
- Natural Light Photography
- Flash Photography Lighting
- Photography Lighting Equipment
- Photography Lighting Techniques
Natural Light Photography
One of the best sources of light for photography is the sun. It’s a full spectrum light that’s cheap to use, available all year round and wonderful for photographs.
Many professional photographers work exclusively with natural light even when they do indoor portraits. They don’t use any artificial lights and rely solely on reflectors/diffusers to manipulate existing light to achieve studio quality results.
As great as natural light is to work with, it does come with a few challenges. But these challenges are easily over come once you understand how the light of the sun behaves under different circumstances.
For example shooting portraits out in the middle of the day can cause…
- harsh contrast and shadows
- overexposed backgrounds
- color balance problems
The solutions to fix the problems are quite easy and include possibilities like moving your subject to a shadier spot, using diffusers/reflectors or changing the time of day to when the sun is lower in the sky.
Here’s a video that illustrates this point perfectly:
Flash Photography Lighting
Sometimes you’re not going to have access to any natural light which happens often when you’re indoors. In that situation you’re likely going to rely on the flash in your camera to light the scene.
If you have ever used the flash on a digital camera before then you probably encountered some of these issues…
- people having “red eyes”
- background totally dark
- faces looking washed out or over exposed
Nothing spoils a picture faster than using a camera’s flash the wrong way. Fortunately once you know a couple of the secrets to using a flash it’s surprisingly easy to create great photos.
The first secret is to use it as a fill flash.
Basically “fill flash” means using your flash during the daytime to fill in the shadows of your subject you’re shooting. One of the best times to use it is when your subject happens to be backlit. Without a flash, your camera will set itself to expose for the light coming in from the back thereby making your subject dark.
Fill flash also works well when your subject is lit by the sun from the side or above – partially lighting the face but also creating deep shadows. Fill flash will even out the exposure, soften the shadows and bring out more detail in those dark areas.
The second secret is to use the Slow-Sync Flash mode on your camera.
If you’re shooting photos at night you should, as often as possible, be using the setting on your camera known as the Slow-Sync Flash. It’s something very few camera owners even know exists but would make a staggering difference in the quality of their night shots if they started using it.
The Slow-Sync Flash mode is known by different names depending on the manufacturer so on your camera might list it as night portrait, night snapshot or some other similar name (check your users manual).
So now when you press the release button on your camera it triggers the flash and opens the shutter much as you would expect it to do. But instead of the shutter closing right away, Slow-Sync Flash mode keeps it open for just a little while longer in order to capture some of the background light.
The result you get is your subject exposed by your flash and you see a lot of the background. Without the Slow-Sync Flash mode on, your backgrounds would always be black or at least a lot darker.
The third secret is to cover your flash with something to diffuse the light
The light coming off the flash in your camera is fairly harsh and bright. If you cover it with a sheet of paper or some other white translucent material, you’ll diffuse the light and it will look a lot softer when it lands on your subject.
The next two secret has to do with the larger type flashes you normally attach to a digital SLR camera that look similar to this:
The fourth secret is to bounce the light from the flash off a wall or ceiling near your subject.
If you were to aim the light of these larger flashes directly at your subject, your picture wouldn’t turn out any better than if you used your built-in flash. However the advantage of a bigger flash is that you can direct the light and bounce it off a wall or ceiling to light your subject. The result can be one that looks as if the picture was shot with natural lighting.
The fifth secret is to remove the flash from the camera and aim it at the subject from a different location than the camera.
Using the flash in combination with a diffuser you can achieve a professional studio like quality in your photos. The lighting of your subject from a location away from your camera creates images that have more depth, tone and feeling.
Check out this video to see more of how you can use improve your flash photography lighting.
Photography Lighting Equipment
Photography lighting equipment is one of the most fascinating aspects of photography.
By creatively combining one or more pieces of equipment like lights, umbrellas, soft boxes, backgrounds, reflectors and diffusers, you can achieve virtually any kind of look you want.
As great as it would be to own every piece of lighting equipment as possible, the truth is you don’t need much at all to achieve professional studio quality images.
For example you can create stunning effects with just one light and a couple of reflectors.
Below is an example of what I mean. Now keep in mind even though Joe shows you some stuff in Photoshop all of his photos were shot using only one studio light, white walls and reflectors – not a lot of equipment and totally affordable by almost anyone.
Photography Lighting Techniques
When it comes to photography lighting techniques, there are as many variations to lighting a subject as there are photographers.
Granted, there are standard practices most photographers use to achieve certain results like when they shoot portraits for example. But every photographer develops their own style and with it their own techniques for lighting.
That’s why photography is so infinitely creative.
To give you a quick introduction to some lighting techniques professional photographer Mimi Janosy will show you a 3 point lighting technique. In this video you’ll hear Mimi discuss how to set up a 3 point lighting arrangement and then some variations how on to instantly change the mood just by repositioning one light.
It’s just one example of the huge variety of ways you can play with light to create incredibly beautiful photographs. Have a look…
Before I Buy Any Piece Of Photography Equipment...
Whether you're just starting out in photography or doing it professionally, finding a great source for photography equipment and accessories can be a challenge. You want a place that offers killer low prices everyday, free shipping and a no-quibble return policy that makes returning anything a breeze.
And if you're shopping from their website then you want to know they actually operate out of a real physical photography store you can walk into.
It took a while but I found a place that offers everything I just mentioned above- and a whole lot more: Adorama.com
Adorama is one of the nation's largest photo retail and mail order suppliers. For over 30 years Adorama has been serving professionals as well as amateurs in the photographic, video, digital imaging and telescope fields. They've got the best combination of quality services, vast selection, knowledgeable staff, and incredibly competitive pricing.
They love Photography and it shows.
When you step into their store for the first time you experience a wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling photographic overload (take your time, you could get a bit lightheaded). They carry the latest in photographic equipment, the proven workhorses, the must-haves, the smart add-ons and the unexpected surprises.
When it comes to buying any piece of photography equipment this is my go-to place of choice. Check it out yourself and see if you aren't tempted to shop there too.
Just click on the picture below!