Photography lighting is the most critical factor in photography. It not only illuminates your subjects and images, but it also defines the settings for your shoot. Two of the most vital elements in successful photography are control over the types of lighting you use and how the light hits, defines, and highlights the subjects you choose to shoot.
What Is Photography Lighting?
You have two distinct types of light sources available for use in photography lighting: natural light and artificial light. Both come with both advantages and disadvantages.
Natural Photography Lighting
Sunlight is also commonly called natural light in photography. Although the sun's primary light emissions are infrared, it also emits visible light and ultraviolet light. Sunlight produces the best light for some types of photography twice in a typical day. Each is sometimes called a "Golden Hour," which may reference either the first hour after sunrise and the final hour before sunset.
Many consider this type of lighting ideal because the sun sits low in the sky, which produces soft light and less contrast. The warm glow illuminates your subject and adds depth to the scene. Another advantage of using sunlight for photography lighting is the warmth that comes from a cloudy sky. An outdoor setting also lends some beautiful, natural scenery that is always free to include in your photos.
Shooting in sunlight comes with its caveats though. Outdoor shooting can be unpredictable because you are always at Mother Nature's mercy. Shooting mid-day can produce less than desirable results, sometimes because the high midday sun causes your human or animal subject to squint. You can also get some unflattering shadows on your subject, including the "raccoon eyes" effect from shadows resting right near your subject's eyes. You can circumvent most of these midday and bright-sun challenges with the right equipment and camera accessories.
Artificial Photography Lighting
The four types of artificial light commonly used in modern photography are incandescent, fluorescent, LED and flash. Incandescent lighting has a warmer color temperature than natural daylight. The bare bulb is harsh and any surrounding shield will be too hot to touch. Use a cover to protect your hands and to soften the lighting.
Fluorescent light is common in office buildings but not a favorite for photographers. However, if you are shooting in an office building, for example, you may have no choice. Since fluorescent lights come in different color temperatures, you should use a gray card to set the proper white balance.
LED, or light-emitting diodes, are becoming more common in photography. Like incandescent lighting, LED lighting can be harsh and may need softening.
Many LED lights are suitable for video and product shooting. If you use them when shooting live subjects, adjust your ISO or put the light very close to your subject. Like fluorescent lights, make sure to set white balance with a gray card.
Generally speaking, flash (or strobe) lighting is more appropriate for photography than LED lighting. Unlike LED lights, they give off a burst of light. Since the light is harsh, diffuse it with a "softbox," an umbrella, or another type of light diffuser.
How Important Is the Right Lighting?
With both natural and artificial lighting, you can create masterpieces. You can also create disastrous pieces. That's why you must know how to light your subject as well as how to visualize and compose your photos.
Flat lighting in photography refers to when you shoot with the light source facing the front of your subject so that there are no shadows in the resulting image of your subject's face. The risk of using flat photography lighting is that the photo can lack character. There are, however, situations where flat lighting is ideal. Flat light is excellent if you want to deemphasize a subject's acne, scars or wrinkles, for instance. It is challenging to get a genuine "story" photo using flat lighting unless you have a subject with tons of personality, in our view.
Broad and Short Photography Lighting
Broad lighting is a side lighting technique. You shoot your subject at an angle after making the side closest to the camera very well lit and allowing the shadow to fall on the side of the face furthest from the camera. This lighting technique gives subjects with narrow faces a fuller look. Short lighting can work the same way, except the shadow falls on the side of the face closest to the camera. While these techniques bring out cute details like freckles in a portrait, keep in mind it will also draw attention to aspects that are unflattering.
If you have a subject who wants to illuminate with toughness and masculinity, then consider the split lighting technique. With split lighting, the light hits the subject at a 90-degree angle. The shadow line is down the middle of the face.
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In backlit photography, the light is behind your subject. It is commonly used for Golden Hour photography. You have to manage any haze or fog when you use backlighting outdoors, of course.
Most beginning photographers are eager to get the latest and greatest equipment. It does not take long to come to the sobering fact that photography is not a cheap hobby. Besides, you can quickly get overwhelmed by getting equipment above your skill level. Let's run through some core equipment you will need, along with some accessories that can help you create optimal photography lighting and get great results.
We recommend that you Invest in a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera. Canon and Nikon are both well-known brands, to cite just two, and you should plan to spend around $500 for a camera body. Avoid purchasing a camera kit because you will likely end up needing a better lens than the one included in that package "deal."
The best camera lens depends on your goals and preferences. We always take these three factors into heavy account: focal length, aperture, and prime vs. zoom lens capabilities.
The focal length is the distance in millimeters from your lens center to the sensor when your subject is in focus. Still confused? Do you want a wider shot or do you want to capture more depth? Wide-angle lengths have a lower focal length number while higher numbers offer greater zoom. If you want a wider shot, then consider a 14mm to 35mm lens. If you want to zoom in closer on your subject, use a 50 to 100mm telephoto lens.
Next, consider the aperture that will set how much light you let enter your camera, which is commonly known as f-stop. The smaller the aperture number, the wider the lens. The wider the lens, the more light comes in. The lower f-stop you get, the wider the opening. If you are considering a telephoto lens, make sure it has at least an f2.8 aperture.
Finally, you should consider whether you want to get as much brightness in your shot so you can correct easily or if you want to get as close to your subject as possible. If you want brightness, then choose a prime lens. If you want to get closer to your subject, then look for a zoom lens. Good-quality lenses for DSLR cameras can be purchased in the $200-to-$400 range.
Memory cards are essential to digital photography. There are two crucial factors in getting a good memory card: storage space and speed. Newer photographers tend to forget to check the latter. Get a card that holds over 1500 photos. As you experiment with different lighting, you'll find that you'll take plenty of pictures. Get a 32GB card if you can.
The other factor, data writing speed, also affect your budget. Buffering is the process where your photos are temporarily stored for processing before they are transferred to your card. Make sure you get a card fast enough to handle continuous shooting. You can get a good memory card for about $30.
If you are a portrait photographer, you may not use a tripod as much as a landscape or wildlife photographer does. However, every photographer should have a good, stable tripod. Besides, if you are always taking the pictures, it's the only way you can include yourself in group photos. While you can get a tripod for less than $30, it will not give you the stability you need. You can get a stable, well-constructed tripod for less than $100.
A gray card is a card or material that is 18% gray. It helps you make sure you get the proper white balance. They are pretty inexpensive, and if you have a printer, you can make one yourself.
You will need editing software like Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. GIMP is a photo editing application comparable in some ways to Photoshop that you can download for free.
A camera bag is more than a convenient way to carry your equipment; it also keeps your gear safe and dust-free.
Most cameras come with a pop-up flash; however, consider getting an external flash. Even if you only shoot in natural light, flash solves common natural light issues like the raccoon eye effect. You can get a Speedlite flash for your DSLR camera for under $50.
Although your camera comes with a battery, invest in at least two extra batteries and an additional battery charger.
If you are doing studio photography, invest in a variety of diffusers such as softboxes and umbrellas. There are also filters you want to consider to both protect your camera and adjust your lighting.
Photography is tremendously fun and rewarding but dealing with photography lighting can be frustrating. With the right knowledge, angles, and equipment; you will be shooting like a pro in no time.