Chapter 11: Importance Of Lighting In Photography – The Ultimate Beginners Photography Guide

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Welcome to the eleventh chapter of Free Online Photography Course – The Ultimate Beginners Photography Guide.

In the last Chapter 10: A Guide To Camera Settings we took an in depth look at most important common basic settings and what they do to your image in order to get you started as a beginner photographer. In this Chapter 11, we will take a look at one of the most important element in photography which is lighting. So, let’s get started!

First and foremost let us understand why is lighting so important element in photography, which is the main goal of this chapter/article. Then we will take a look at different types of lighting techniques in photography and I will also provide tips for lighting for beginner photographers as this article/chapter is meant for beginner photographer.


Why Is Lighting Important In Photography?

Lighting is an important aspect of photography which can sometimes be complicated as well as it is one of the most underappreciated element of photography which especially beginner photographers tend to neglect. The word “photography” has roots in Greek and literally means “drawing with light.” Without a perfect lighting even the best camera’s cannot capture a perfect photograph.

Lighting is very important in photography because cameras do not respond to lights in the same way that the human eye does. The finite detail and lighting contrasts a human eye can see are incredibly developed, and cameras cannot process or pick up on this as well. Additional lighting is necessary to make the definition of a photograph to get a comparable quality to what the human eye sees naturally.

Be it indoors or outdoors, the amount of light on your subject depends on how impressive your photograph will turn out. Proper lighting aesthetically brings out the actual colors, dimensions and features of the subject. Yet as mentioned earlier beginner photographers often pick up a camera and begin shooting without giving lighting too much thought.

Lighting is also used to create mood and atmosphere of an image and it is also used to create depth of field. Lighting literally has many uses that is why the importance of lighting in photography is something that should never be overlooked. It can make the difference between high-quality or amateur-looking content.

Different Types Of Lighting Techniques In Photography

There are many several different types of lighting, as mentioned earlier this article/chapter is meant for beginner photographer that is why we will take a look at few most important types of lighting and compare it with each other because if you begin with the complicated lighting setups found in some studios, your head might spin but if you start with underlying principles that apply to photography lighting and work your way up, learning the skills of photography with these photography lighting tips will be easy.


First and foremost, as mentioned earlier there are many several different types of lighting and as this article/chapter is meant for beginner photographer I will not explain what strobe light, flash light, etc. does because it will probably confuse a beginner photographer. What I will do is help you understand different types of lighting techniques so that you wll already know which type of lighting equipments you will need by the end of this article. So, lets get started!

Soft Light vs. Hard Light

Different light sources have different qualities. These qualities are most noticeable in the shadows produced on photographs. If the light is diffuse, it creates fewer shadows with a softer differentiation between light and shadow, this is soft light. While it comes from a source, the light is spread out in many directions from that source. That is another way of saying that it isn’t directional.

Example Of Soft Light

Hard light comes from a directional light, like a spotlight, a flash, or the sun. Shadows are very harsh, and there is a big difference between the lit areas and the dark. Hard light has its place in photography, but it often inspires a moody or dark feeling in your images.


The main difference between hard and soft light boils down to the size of the light source relative to your subject. The Sun, for example, is the largest light source in the solar system but because it’s 93 million miles away, it is considered a small hard light source. This is why it produces such contrasty hard edged shadows. When we only see clouds, the entire sky becomes a huge soft light source. It can often be so soft that you can barely even see the shadows.

Example Of Hard Light

Both types of light have their own advantages and disadvantages. Hard light can be used to create images with sharp contrast and highlights, emphasizing shape and texture. It can be used to enhance the 3D effect of an image and in general to create dramatic effects. However, hard light is difficult to work with, and it is generally considered unsuitable for many if not most situations, particularly when photographing people.

Soft light, by contrast, creates lighting that is more even, which better depicts the colors and shapes of the subject. The choice of which type of light to use depends on the type of photography, the subject, and the desired effect, but soft light is usually the preferred choice, and it is certainly the safest choice for beginner photographer.


Artificial Light And Natural Light

Natural light refers to sunlight/daylight, while artificial light refers to all kinds of light sources, including fluorescent lights, electric lights, flash, and so on.

Example Of Natural Light, which is sunlight in this case.

Photography lighting is not only about flashes and strobes. Sure, speedlights play a vital role in a lot of photo light setups, but the sun and moon are much more critical part of natural light photography. Natural light is one of the types of lighting in photography, in which the use of light is already present in the natural environment.

If you’re outdoors, that’s light from the sun and everything the sun is bouncing off of. Indoors, it might be the light coming through the windows and those light sources already present, like lamps, candles, or fluorescent bulbs.

Example Of Artificial Light

Certainly, whether you’ll use natural or artificial lighting (or both) depends on many factors such as your budget, style, and preferences. And there are advantages and disadvantages to both.

One of the main challenges of natural light is that it isn’t constant. Sometimes the sunlight changes too often, so you constantly will need to adjust the camera settings. On the bright side, natural light lets you have a more dynamic shoot and experiment with posing.

On the other hand artificial light such as your camera flash, the greatest disadvantage is that the model/subject needs to stay in one place, it as a limiting factor when it comes to posing. On the plus side, shooting portraits with your camera flash lets you control the ambient exposure.


High Key Lighting And Low Key Lighting

High key lighting gives you photos with bright backgrounds or in most cases a pure-white backgrounds. Whereas low key lighting gives you a dark background or in most cases a pure-black backgrounds.

High key lighting is common in portrait photography and some product photography, especially when you’re aiming for an upbeat, bright-and-airy type look. You’ll also find high key photography in fashion magazines, as well as in macro photography and even in bird photography.

Low key lighting is also found in a lot of the same places, but instead of an upbeat look, low key lighting is used to create dramatic, moody photos. So you can create a moody still life, a moody portrait or a moody product photo and the list goes on.

Example Of High Key Lighting

Generally speaking, high key lighting is easier to achieve. It’s simple to produce high key lighting when shooting outdoors on cloudy days (without a flash). And you can also pull it off on sunny days, too, though it’s a bit trickier. Finally, you can pretty much always achieve high key lighting with a flash or two, no matter your ambient light.


Low key lighting, on the other hand, is a bit more finicky. While it’s possible to produce low key lighting when shooting outdoors, it’s a lot harder, especially if you don’t want to do a lot of post-processing. Fortunately, achieving a low key look with a flash is easier than achieving a high key look and you can also get gorgeous low key photos when shooting indoors without a flash, as long as you have single strong natural light source, such as diffused window light.

Example Of Low Key Lighting

If you are trying to achieve a high key look, there’s really only one thing you need to know, “The background should be significantly brighter than your subject”. This is what gives you the beautiful high key look, where you shoot your main subject and let the background get blow out. Low key lighting is the opposite, it requires that your subject be much brighter than the background.

There are still many basic lighting techniques but for now as a beginner photographer start by learning the above mentioned lighting techniques as they are usually most commonly used basic lighting techniques. If you are still wondering what are other basic lighting techniques, here is a rough list of those:

  • Side lighting – Literally how it sounds, lighting a subject from the side when they’re faced toward you
  • Rembrandt lighting – Here the light is at around 45 degrees over from the front of the subject, raised and pointing down at 45 degrees
  • Back lighting – Again, how it sounds, lighting a subject from behind. This can help to add drama with silouettes
  • Rim lighting – This produces a light glowing outline around your subject
  • Key light – The main light source, and it’s not necessarily always the brightest light source
  • Fill light – This is used to fill in the shadows and provide detail that would otherwise be blackness. Usually a soft light is used as a fill light in many situations.
  • Cross lighting – Using two lights placed opposite from each other to light two subjects

Now, that you have learnt the basic important lighting techniques, here are few tips to keep in mind while it comes to photography lighting:


Color Temperature

All light sources have an associated color temperature which measures in degrees Kelvin. Warmer colors have a lower temperature than cooler colors. They come from candles and incandescent lights. The color temperature of Natural sunlight falls somewhere in the middle. When sunlight diffuses on cloudy days, it generally gets cooler. Fluorescent lights are very cool, with an almost blue cast to them.

Your camera’s white balance controls how it captures the temperature of the light. You can usually set the white balance several ways, and there’s nearly always an automatic setting. Once you begin working with several different light source, however, it becomes tough for the camera to pick the color you want.

Begin By Shooting In Natural Light

By far, the best starting place is using natural light to learn how to do professional photography lighting. This removes a variable for the photographer: you can’t move or control the light source itself. But what you can do is move around, change the time of day, filter the light through a window with shades, and move the light behind the subject or in front of it.

By keeping it basic, you will learn the fundamentals of light. Shoot outdoors, and play with different lighting setups like direct sunlight, cloudy days, filtered light under trees, and shooting in dark shadows.


Use More Than One Light

The more you play with photography lighting basics, the more you will start using and thinking about multiple light sources. Multiple strobes give you the ability to control every aspect of photo light falling on your model, from the highlights to the shadows.

For example, you can use Three Point Lighting Technique. With all your light in front of the model, dark shadows may appear on the background when you are setting up indoor photography lighting. A third light source is often used to light the background. Just like the model, this light could be in front of or behind the background. 

More Than One Light Setup and Different Positions Of Light Source

Position Of Light Source

Understanding light in photography depends on where the photographer places the light source, be it natural or artificial and doing this affects the final image more than anything. Putting the light in front of the subject usually produces a flat image, with little or no depth or contour. By moving the light a bit to the side, shadows and texture appear.

Keep in mind that when working with natural light, you might be moving the subject rather than the light. The result is the same, and the essential factor is always the position of the lights relative to your subject. 

Light Intensity And Depth Of Field

When shooting a photograph, a certain amount of light is required by the camera to create a picture on the digital sensor. The ISO (or chip sensitivity), the aperture setting, and the shutter speed determine the amount of light that is required.

You can shoot photos in very different lighting conditions. Shooting landscapes on a sunny day generally means shooting with a high intensity of light. While many beginners tend to think that these are ideal conditions, shooting with high light intensity often yields pictures with low detail and high contrast, which should in most cases be avoided.

Conversely, a cloudy day generates diffused light with a lower intensity, which either casts faint or no shadows. It also smooths gradients, improves color accuracy, and preserves texture. When shooting in dark conditions where there is very little light, a high ISO setting and/or long shutter speed is required.


Shoot In Raw

You might be thinking what does it have to do with lighting, well you are right and wrong at the same time. If you don’ have enough light source you can try to increase the exposure of your photograph in post processing and vice versa. If you shoot in jpeg format you might loose some quality or introduce noise in that process that is why I recommend shooting in Raw file format not just for beginner photographers but also many professional photographer choose it, what it does is, it will have more image data than jpeg and you will be able to do heavy post-processing without loosing much quality to no loss in quality.


Lighting in photography is a very important element. You cannot ignore it if you want to capture a professional looking content.

Lighting can be sometimes very hard to grasp but if you start by basics just as the basic lighting techniques and tips in this article/chapter you will be able to learn lighting in photography better as you grow your skills and it will be easy for you to adapt and get used to lighting in future.

This is the end of Chapter 11: Importance Of Lighting In Photography of the Free Online Photography Course – The Ultimate Beginners Photography Guide. You can subscribe to The Black Light Studios website to stay tuned and get notifications on the upcoming chapters. In the mean time you can check my other posts on this website.

This is it for this post. Thank You! for visiting The Black Light Studios, I hope you find this article helpful to you and got the information you were looking for. Stay tuned for more posts like these by subscribing to The Black Light Studios website. If you have any suggestion or feedback comment down below or contact us through the contact form via contact menu.

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