Photography Lighting Techniques

These photography lighting techniques follow on from my article on photography lighting tips which you might like to read after you read this.

Many people think that lighting should ideally come from behind the photographer and fall on the subject directly. This is called front lighting and although it may be received wisdom that goes back many years in your memory, in fact it is not totally sound advice.

Although it will ensure that the shadows are mainly cast behind your subject, and that the objects directly in front of you are brightly lit, making exposure easier, the overall effect tends to be quite flat and uninteresting .

Also, with the sun behind you, shining directly onto your subject, they will be forced to squint in order to block out some of the light that is shining in their eyes. Additionally, it will not bring out the idea of depth in your picture which is very important as a photograph is only a 2-dimensional representation - a point that is often overlooked! Try instead to position the sun (or light source) at a bit of an angle or even coming from the side.

Cote de Granit Rose - photograph of a rock formation in the shape of a face taken in Brittany, France

Above: Rock Man by Anne Darling (photographed on the Cote de Granit Rose in Brittany, France)

Photography Lighting Techniques: Side Lighting

To get the sun shining on your subject from the side, either wait for the sun to move (time-consuming so think about coming back later in the day) or turn your subject. Shadows will appear on the side of the subject which is opposite to the source. Side light will occur naturally when the sun is low in the sky, at dawn and dusk.

Architecture in particular can benefit from side lighting as so much more detail will be brought out by all the tiny shadows. The more parallel the rays of light are with the walls of the building, the longer the shadows will be making the details stand out clearly.

Try side lighting with landscapes and people too - you will be amazed at the difference. But be careful with portrait shots as side lighting will emphasize the texture of your subject's skin - not very flattering! Go for lighting that is somewhere between front lighting and side lighting. If the shadows are too harsh try using a reflector to lighten some areas or else try fill-in flash.

Photography Lighting Techniques: Backlighting

Having your subject lit from behind can eliminate the problem of squinting against the sun but produces a bright light around the subject. Back lighting can also be used if you want to create a silhouette effect. Use a lens hood if necessary to eliminate flare. They are very light and can be carried around with you in your pocket or bag so no need to keep it on the camera all the time.

Be careful too with the exposure as a back-lit image will probably be under-exposed due to the camera calculating for all the brightness behind your subject.

Recommended Reading

photography lighting techniquesMichael Freeman's Complete Guide to Light & Lighting is a comprehensive manual which gives you an essential toolbox of techniques and creative ideas.

Find out how to create and manipulate lighting scenarios for professional-looking photos.

Examine the many varieties of natural light, from blazing sunlight to gentle twilight, as well as incandescent and fluorescent lights.

Make the most of your camera's flash and lighting equipment, including diffusers, shades, and reflectors. From shooting techniques to imaging tricks, this provides you with a solid groundwork for producing top-quality pictures.


I hope you have enjoyed reading this article. Follow this link to read my other article on photography lighting techniques.


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