Lighting is one of the most essential aspects of photography. It is also one of the most complex. Beginners often use lights to increase visibility and nothing more, but when used properly, lighting can completely alter the tone of a photo and turn even the most mundane of shots into a fine art masterpiece.
Types of Lighting Natural Lighting
You might think that natural lighting only applies to sunlight and outdoor photography. However, natural lighting actually refers to any and all lights that exist in the environment, including fluorescent bulbs and candles.
While it is less predictable than artificial lighting, natural lighting is much more accessible and affordable, and when used correctly it can be just as effective as studio lights. If you’re a new photographer, it is best to become comfortable with natural lighting before you invest in expensive studio lights.
Hard light comes from focused, directional lights, like flashlights, spotlights, or direct sunlight. They cast harsh shadows and create sharp contrast between the light and dark. As a result, the image is less visually clear, but the photo takes on a moody, dramatic tone.
Soft light is light that has been diffused, or spread out from its source. The result is softer shadows and a clearly visible image.
Light can be diffused in a variety of ways. For example, speedlights can be diffused using a diffuser box, a small piece of white plastic that goes over the lens of the light. Flashlights can be diffused using a technique known as bounce flash, where the flash is directed at another object which reflects the light onto the subject. Sunlight is naturally diffused by clouds on especially cloudy days.
Lighting Techniques Angling and Positioning
Just as important as the type of the light is the position that light is coming from.
If your light is directly in front of the subject, the image produced will be flat, with very little depth or contour.
Conversely, placing the light directly behind your subject will result in a harsh, silhouetted image.
More often than not, you will want to place your lights somewhere on the side, which gives the image shadows and textures without obscuring too much of the image.
Another factor to consider is distance. The closer your light is to your subject, the softer it will be. This does not just apply to the primary light source, but to any surfaces that your light may be reflecting off of.
Keep in mind that you won’t always be able to move your lights, especially when working with natural lighting. In these cases, you will have to move your subject to find the perfect angle. Don’t be afraid to experiment with various lights in various positions to find the angle that best suits you.
Color temperature refers to the warmth of a light’s color, and it is measured in degrees Kelvin.
Warm colors actually have a lower color temperature than cool colors. This is because they come from hard lights, while soft lights are cool. Warm colors set a brighter, more inviting tone, while cool colors make a subject appear cold and desolate.
Your camera is equipped with a white balance, which allows you to make the light appear cooler or warmer. However, this tool is ineffective if the photo has multiple sources of light. Alternatively, if you shoot in RAW mode, you can manually edit the color temperature after the shoot is wrapped using a RAW editor.
Shooting in Low Light
The main difference between shooting in low light and shooting in normal light is your camera’s shutter speed. Low light photography requires a longer shutter speed.
A tripod is required for long exposure shots, as even a slight amount of camera shake will completely ruin your image. If your subject is moving, their movements must also be very carefully controlled to avoid blur.
If your exposure lasts more than a few seconds, strobes won’t be effective as a primary light source. However, if they are used at the start and end of your exposure period, they can help.
More effective is light painting, where the photographer uses powerful photo lights during the exposure period to “paint” the scene with light. This technique can be used to draw specific shapes or patterns using light, or to simply blanket a specific area of the photo in light.
You will have to experiment to find the right amount of light to paint for your particular camera and style.
There is no wrong way to light a photo. There are infinite combinations of lights, positions, and colors which can completely alter the tone of your photo. The best thing you can do is experiment and find the combination that best suits your style.