Lighting Basics: The 3 Types of Lighting

Have you ever seen someone’s photograph that you loved and wished to replicate it and then you were left thinking, “That picture is just too dark”? Or maybe it casted a weird shadow on a face that was distracting? The difference many times between a great looking photograph and one that seems to be missing something is the lighting. It can literally make or break your pictures and ultimately your success as a photographer. In learning to take pictures, lighting techniques should be one of the first topics that are tackled as they are essential to achieving a high quality photograph. Without proper lighting, photos can be grainy or blurry. Different types of light can produce different types of photographs, depending on how they are used. Knowing how to manipulate the light can make it easier to take the picture exactly as you want to get it every time.

To become a good photographer you should be familiar with the types of light that can be utilized and how to use them effectively. You’ll find the 3 types of light below and how you can use them to your advantage.

1) Natural Sunlight

If you know how to work with sunlight, you are on the right track. First of all, it’s free! Second, sunlight changes constantly through the day so you have many options as to how the picture will turn out. Sunrises and sunsets produce an effect that angles the light on the subject differently than during the middle of the day. Clear days in the afternoon are very bright and bring out colors and detail. Cloudy days sometimes are easier to work with since the sun may not be exposed. Within natural light there are 4 types you should know about:

  • Soft light – The type of light that is found in shade or completely cloudy day. Color contrasts are heightened and tints can be seen. Soft light also dials down the intensity of complex subjects, where direct light is too much.
  • Front light – You achieve this light by putting the sun behind you. The shadows are hidden behind the subject and the sun lights evenly and sharply. Make sure to use this light with a lot of colors, as the direct light can wash out the subject.
  • Side light – If you want shadows, use this light. It creates a lot of contrast and is popular in black and white photos.
  • Back light – Used to create beautiful silhouettes by creating a sharp contrast between the light and shadows. All the focus is on the subject, making translucent subjects interesting against the sun.

2) Low Light

It can be tricky to take photos in a low light atmosphere. On one hand, using the flash may wash out the subject. On the other hand, not using flash at all can make the photo blurry and grainy. It’s best to change up the settings on your camera to catch as much light as possible by playing around with it for a few minutes. It can be very difficult to catch the best image in a room with low light but if you can master it you can take some great looking photos and have the confidence to take pictures in any light and during any setting. Do your best with what you have and don’t be afraid to experiment.

3) Reflected Light

That dreaded “sun spot” in photos can happen if you don’t know what to do when the light is shining directly on the subject. It’s a good idea to even the light out by reflecting it onto a white background and bouncing in back onto the subject. The glare is gone and the light is diffused. Professional portrait photographs much rather prefer to use reflected lighting than be outdoors where the sunlight is hard to control. You can adjust the shadow on the subject by changing the angle of the light. In this situation a meter to measure the light exposure is good so that you can be consistent in the lighting that works best for your pictures.

There is so much more when it comes to lighting but if you’re just starting out this will give you a great foundation and ability to practice taking pictures in different light. Start experimenting and see what works for you and what light you love to shoot in. Every photographer has a favorite lighting and you can only find this through practice and taking lots of pictures.

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