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How to Use Types of Lighting in Photography: Beginner’s Guide

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Lighting plays a vital role in photography as its responsible for the generation of effects, spectacular shadows, and silhouettes. It’s also responsible for the adverse effects of light that cause glare and reflections in images, which is why any photographer needs to understand the different types and aspects of lighting.

Beginner’s guide to lighting in photography

Photography is a basic Greek translation meaning “writing or drawing with light,” which makes lighting a crucial aspect of photography. To fully control your photography, you must understand how light works, which involves more than camera controls. Lighting is a vital yet one of the most complicated and underappreciated photography aspects.

Most beginners pick up their cameras and start shooting without paying any specific attention to the light. Others add a strobe light to counter darkness, but just as using the DSLR’s manual mode, mastering some fundamentals about lighting can take your photography to the next level.

Understanding lighting in photography is highly dependent on the source of light you choose, natural or artificial. The type of lighting you choose is very impactful in the final image produced.

When you place a light source in front of your subject, you get a flat picture with little or no contour or depth, and when you adjust the light to the side, the shadows and texture become noticeable. The positioning of the light and the setup is essential for the production of specific images.

Types of lighting in photography

Soft Light vs. Hard Light

The quality of light depends on the source, and these qualities can be seen best in the shadows seen in photographs. Soft light is diffuse, and it creates fewer shadows that have a softer distinction between shadow and light. Soft light isn’t directional.

It spreads out in a variety of ways after leaving the source. Soft light is preferable, and a more desirable look to hard light for most photos, and an example of such is a cloudy day, foggy conditions, or in places with air pollution. Soft light can be created using diffusers and reflectors.

On the other hand, hard light is directional; it comes from direct sources such as flashes, spotlights, or sunlight. The shadows produced from hard light are very harsh, and there is a significantly noticeable difference between the dark and the lit areas of the images. Hard light creates well-defined shadows compared to soft light, which produces mild or no shadows at all.

When shooting portraits using hard light, you get very sharp images, which isn’t what most people don’t prefer. Hard light is most suitable for inspiring moody and dark feelings in photography. It can be produced when it’s sunny when there is no cloud cover, and when the sun is high, something that’s challenging, especially for beginners.

Both light types have specific advantages and disadvantages, such as creating images with sharper contrast and highlighting and emphasizing texture and color for hard light. Hard light is also used in enhancing the 3D effects of images to create more dramatic effects.

However, this light is hard to work with and thus unsuitable for beginners compared to soft light, which has a better depiction of the subjects’ color and shape. To better decide the most suitable lighting option for you, it’s imperative to choose photography as the type, subject and desired effect. Soft light is the best choice for beginners and the safest one.

Color temperature

Color temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin, and it’s characteristic of all sources of light. Warmer colors from incandescent lights and candles have a lower temperature, while natural sunlight has a medium color temperature.

The ability of your camera to capture light temperature is determined by the white balance controls, which can be set in different ways in addition to the automatic setting. When it’s cloudy, sunlight diffuses from the sky, making it cooler, just as fluorescent lights.

When dealing with color temperature for lighting, it’s advisable to shoot in the RAW mode as files saved in JPEG format don’t hold enough data to alter the color temperature.

When you take RAW files, they have enough data required to adjust the color temperature you would when shooting compared to JPEG formats. This means that even after adjusting the tint and the hue for JPEG images, you still don’t get brilliant and satisfactory results.

Most DSLRs have a manual white balance setting mode, making it easier to set the white balance manually. The light meter is used to check your subject’s light temperature in Kelvin for input or use a white object’s sample image to set up your camera.

Natural and Flash Light

Photography is about more than just strobes and flashes, and even though speed lights are essential in lighting setups, the moon and the sun are as critical in the provision of natural light. Natural light is a type of lighting where light is already available naturally in the environment. It is best experienced when you are outdoors from the sun.

The light from the sun as it bounces off on surfaces results in natural lighting, and when you’re indoors, the light comes in through the windows. Natural light is harder to control, and it varies depending on such factors as the season, time of day, weather, and geographical location of the shoot.

Other present light sources like candles, lamps and fluorescent bulbs can be used to create flashlights. You don’t necessarily need a strobe light to make a successful photography career. Still, most photographers prefer having a little more control over their photos using speed lights that attach to and use your camera’s metering system.

Speedlights are flexible flashes so that they can be carried around and positioned at any angle, direction, and distance from the shooting point. These flashes can be combined with the units surrounding the scene for a variety of light sources.

There are the specialty and advanced studio lighting for more professional photographers, which is used in lighting up certain parts of the photo frame, such as the background.

These lights serve different purposes, such as color tint, softening shadows, and catch light creation. Self-portraits are perfect for this lighting because you can take your composition in any direction by experimenting with this type of lighting.

The challenges of using these types of lighting are the same, you have to understand how the different sources of light act on a subject and how to get your desired effect, whether you’re using natural or artificial light. When shooting in a studio, different light sources produce both soft and hard light, which is where you have direct control over elements like distance, angle, intensity, and hardness.

There is no photography without light, so it’s vital to understand lighting as a photographer. You can start by recognizing soft light and side and front lighting, which are easy for beginners to work with, then progress to hard light and backlighting when you learn light modification.

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Dion Lewis
My name is Dion Lewis. Photography is my life and I have taken it as my profession after my graduation. I am a professional, I almost cover everything from fashion, architecture, editorial topics, and corporate lifestyle. I have worked with clients such as CNN, Alabama State University, Steelcase, LiveStrong, and more. I'm based in Alabama. If you need my service, just feel free to contact me.

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