Photography Lighting Tips

This article on photography lighting tips is designed to be an introduction to lighting techniques in general.  I will be devoting a whole section in the future to look at flash units, artificial lighting, studio lighting and so on.  But to start off, I want to look at the best photography lighting there is - natural lighting.

We will start with some tips about dealing with low-level light and light at midday by looking at  the two basic types of light:  diffuse light and direct light.

Photography Lighting Tips: Diffuse & Direct Light

Diffuse light is soft and even and lacks the harsh shadows of direct light. It is therefore particularly suited to flower photography as can be seen in the macro flower image above.

Above: Diffuse Light by Anne Darling

Diffuse light is also more suited to portrait shots and is more flattering although the shadows created by direct light can add drama to your pictures and, in portraiture, can create a sense of mystery and even threat.

Landscapes too can benefit from shadows which effectively model the view the way an artist models a picture using deeper tones. Direct light with strong shadows can even create a sense of danger.

Photography Lighting Tips: Low-level Light

Above: Rickshaws at Sunset by Anne Darling

Low-level lighting such as sunrise and sunset can produce very atmospheric shots, but try to be well-prepared. Since street photography necessitates carrying a minimum amount of equipment, due to weight considerations, if you have a DSLR and just one lens, make the lens a fairly wide angle one not just to encapsulate a bigger viewpoint but also to maximise the amount of light available. This will allow you to use faster shutter speeds to freeze action.

Photography Lighting Tips: Prime Lenses

Alternatively, by using a prime lens (that is, it has a fixed focal length) you can use a relatively faster shutter speed given the same aperture.

Prime lenses are not as versatile as zoom lenses, however, the optical quality is usually much better and they weigh less as they have less moving parts. So, great for street photography especially as they are often smaller and can fit easily in your pocket.

Since prime lenses allow photographs to be made with lower light, it is also possible to achieve a shallower depth of field due to wider aperture possibilities.

Photography Lighting Tips: Wide-Angle Lenses

Using a wide-angle lens in the 24mm or 28 mm range and taking shots fairly close up may mean that you can include people towards the edges of the picture who are aware of your presence but unaware that they are being photographed as the lens won't be pointing directly at them. Try using a wide angle-lens if you are a shy photographer but don't make the wide angle too wide as you get a lot of distortion towards the edges.

Higher ISO ratings such as 400 or 800 will help to freeze action but will produce much more 'noise' (called 'grain' if you are using film). To a certain extent, digital noise can be removed using many photo-editing sofware packageds but a better option is to use a stand-alone programme or plug-in such as Noise Ninja.

Above: Abstract by Anne Darling

Noise Ninja uses a custom profile for your specific camera which you download from after you have installed the programme. Images are smoother but more importantly image detail is preserved.

Photography Lighting Tips: Midday

Last of the photography lighting tips I would like to pass on is about the strong shadows you find in the middle of the day.

Many photographers prefer to work early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the shadows are long and the light is often more interesting (sometimes called the Golden Hour). But when the sun is high in the sky, the light is great for bringing out the texture of objects, including buildings.

Shadows help to give depth and modelling to the subject. The subtle textures created by the light in the above photo bring out the shapes, both, geometric and natural, to create an interesting abstract composition which would not have worked with even light such as that found on an overcast day.

At dawn and dusk, the light may be more interesting and is generally warmer in colour but it is less strong so you need to use longer shutter times. To avoid blur use a tripod to steady the camera and eliminate camera shake.

The yellow flowers in the foreground give added life to what would otherwise be a totally grey photograph.

Recommended Reading

exploring color photography

The best book on the market for beginners who want an introduction to creative lighting is Light: Science and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting.

This excellent book prepares you to analyze lighting situations and then come up with your own solutions based on the principles it has taught.

It is a highly respected guide for those starting out in photography and with this book you will learn how to predict results before even setting up the lights.

This is not primarily a how-to book with only set examples for you to copy. Rather, it arms you with knowledge of the nature of light allows you to use lighting to express your own creativity.

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