Photography Lighting Tips

Light tells us many different things. It tells us whether the scene is safe or not. It tells us if we can trust our environment. There is a reason why kids are afraid of the dark, and this exercise proves we have never truly grown out of that. However, not all photos with heavy shadow creates this sense of fear. In fact depending on how we set up the photo, and photograph it, we can actually create something really interesting.

Light also have an impact on tone, texture, colour and our surroundings. We can control our light in many ways; aperture, shutter speed, using the flash, changing the intensity of the flash, using other light sources, using only one light source, using filters, altering our photos in Photoshop, moving a person from a dark room to a window and many more things. It’s very important to work with light because it helps you tell your story. And story telling is what photography is all about.

When you want a well lit scene but can’t get it, it can be extremely difficult. This can include things like shooting fast movement indoors, without the subject being too blurry. This is almost impossibility so we then use extra light sources to help us get more light so we can speed up the shutter. We speed up the shutter so we don’t capture any blur. In a case like this we make use the flash, use a higher ISO to make the camera more sensitive to light or use other lighting sources.

On saying that though, sometimes you may not want a well lit scene. Sometimes you may want to create something quite moody and intense, or alternatively, gentle and romantic. This may require dim or very little light. You can still get good photos with a low intensity of light.

Many wedding photos of the bride on her own are used with very soft light. It makes the story and overall scene look romantic. Window light is an example of light that can do this. There are other ways to create lovely photos using very little light. I’ve done it so many times. It takes time but soon you will understand light and be able to get the effects you want.

You don’t always have to photograph people when using soft light. You can put an emphasis on the shape of an object. You may only want to highlight some things and not others. Let’s take a look at an example of a photo I took with this exact theme in mind.


IMG_0434 LR

Canon 5D, F5.6, 1/250th of a second, ISO 4000, 105mm.


In this photo here I photographed my husband’s hands. He was in his studio drawing up measurements for his next painting. As I watched his hands glide over the canvas I couldn’t help thinking how lovely the light was. It cast a soft and warm light over the entire room. I wanted to capture the softness of the activity, by keeping the light on certain parts of the image and not others.


IMG_0437 LR

Canon 5D, F5.6, 1/250th of a second, ISO 4000, 105mm.

P.S The technical stuff:

Technically this is is dim light, with a back-lit key light. That means that the light is low in intensity, the main source of light is coming from behind the subject. I used a Sekonic Incident Light meter and metered off the middle of the ruler. I did that because I only wanted that section of the image with light and I wanted the light to create a silhouette effect around his hands to emphasise shape and form, rather than detail.If you are going to use a light meter, which I highly recommend, then meter facing towards the light you want to expose for, keeping in mind what effect that will create.

Interested in learning more? Here’s another article I have written about The Importance Of Lighting In Photography.

About the Author

Amy is an multi-award winning photographer from Australia. She teaches enthusiast photographers how to take beautiful, professional photos in easy, plain English. She has a monthly photography emagazine and ebooks to help you create stunning images every time.

Comments (4)

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  1. Jackie says:

    Amy, how did you get perfect exposure on the hands?

  2. Angela says:

    I can never get hands right, I always over expose them.

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