Lighting is the most important aspect of photography and taking a good picture. Photography actually translates in Greek as drawing with light. Knowing how to work with different light sources and lighting setups is one of the biggest challenges of photography. Beginners oftentimes don’t realise the importance that light plays in their photos and begin shooting photos without thinking about the light. Mastering some of the fundamentals of light can really take your photos to the next level.
Start with the basics and fundamentals, lighting doesn’t have to be complicated. It is important that you start with the underlying principles to photography lighting and build up your skills slowly.
Lighting Setup: The Importance of Position
To understand lighting in photography you have to understand where the photographer places the light source. This will affect the final image more than anything else. If the light is put in front of the subject a flat image is produced with no depth or contours. When the light is positioned slightly to the side, shadows and texture appear on the image. One thing to be aware of is if you are using natural light you will be re-positioning the subject, not the light. The result is the same and the essential factor is the position of the light relative to the subject.
When the lighting is beside the subject, this is when the most dramatic pictures are produced, containing shadows and a lot of depth. These photos have a specific moody, emotional look. Placing the light behind your subject results in an image where the subject appears shadowed or silhouetted. Working the cameras of your camera carefully, you can expose these images and use the lights behind your subject as a rim light. These are accent lights that add additional elements of interest and depth that pull your subject out of the frame. These are often used in portraits and professional product photography.
Types of Lighting in PhotographySoft Light vs. Hard Light
Different light sources have different qualities that can be noticed in the shadows produced in photographs. Diffuse light ( light that is spread out) creates fewer shadows and there is a softer differentiation between light and shadow. This is known as soft light. The light is spread in many directions from its source, it isn’t directional. An example of a situation with soft light is the light on a cloudy day. Soft light is often preferred compared to hard light.
You can change the softness of your light by using a diffuser. This is a white plastic box that can be attached to a Speedlight. It spreads out the light and softens the shadows. Another important lighting technique is to use a bounce flash. You can direct the flash at a large object and create a flash from that object. You can use a ceiling or wall opposite your subject and it results in diffuse light hitting your subject.
Hard light is directional light coming from a spotlight, a flash or the sun for example. The shadows are very harsh when you use hard light. In portraits, you get a sharp look. Hard light is used when photographers want to add a moody and emotional feel to their photographs.
Natural light is the involvement of the sun and the moon. In natural light photography, photographers make use of whatever natural light is present, during the day and outside this is the sun. Indoors it can be the light coming in the windows or light form.
Most photographers prefer more control over their photoshoots and speedlights are commonly used. These are flashes that attach to your camera and use the camera’s metering system. They can be used to produce multiple light sources. A benefit to using speedlights is that they can be positioned from any angle, in any direction and as near or far to your subject as you want.
Photography Lighting Basics: Begin by Shooting in Natural Light
The best place for beginners to start with photography is using natural light. By removing the variable of the light source, you can learn by changing other variables. For example, using different times of day, change the position of the subject from behind to in front and vice versa. You can compare images captured on cloudy days and days with direct sunlight. You can use subjects in filtered light under trees and shoot images in dark shadows.
There is some equipment that you can use to change or control natural light. Diffusers can make the natural light softer when you use them between your light source and the subject. Also, reflectors can add extra light to specific areas of the photo. They act like mirrors and can shine more light on whatever area you want. So you should make sure you have a diffuser and reflector in your camera equipment.