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 Light

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.

Split Light

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.

Basic Equipment


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.

DSLR Cameras

Camera Lenses

Memory Cards


Gray Card

Editing Software

Camera Bag


Extra Batteries

Other Accessories


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. 

Last update on 2021-10-15 at 21:23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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