Just How Important Is The Correct Lighting In Your
This shot utilizes a lot of the main areas that we're going to talk
about. It's just a beautiful view of Orange County, California
overlooking John Wayne Airport from a high-rise project that I was
Our first area that I would like to talk about is light
and how important light is. A lot of times we don't really notice the
light itself; we notice the things that it's illuminating.
learn to really see light, understand light and its properties.
Light has direction.
While the sun is 93 million miles away – it is
still coming from a source. If there are no clouds or anything in the
way, we see the direction that the light is coming from... whether it's
low in the sky, high in the sky, or late in the afternoon there's a
So we are going to talk about the three main
directions that light comes from as it illuminates the subjects.
Front lighting occurs when the camera/photographer is in between the
subject and the light source. Now, you don't want to be so close that
you cast a shadow, that would cause an "eclipse" and that would be bad.
In the photo above, we have a front lighting situation...the light is
falling on our subject almost completely straight on. There are very
little shadows anywhere, but there is a slight shadow if you look at
the upper right hand area of her forehead. (camera right)
When I talk about photos in this article, we're going to identify areas
camera right and camera left; not the subject's right or left because
that gets all mixed up and I want to make it as clear as possible.
Let's move on to our next example which is side lighting.
Side lighting is just that; it's light that's coming from the subject's
side. In this example we are in a large building, in a foyer area,
there's a bank of windows to camera right, and it's coming sideways
from right to left.
We can see the model's face is illuminated and that
there's a slight shadow behind her from that light source.
many variations to side lighting... it could come from the left or the
right, or from different heights but basically when it all comes down
to it, it is all side lighting. It's coming from the side.
This is a
very good lighting technique, depending on the quality of it which is
something that we'll move onto in a minute, but it is a good light
source, a good direction to photograph people from.
One thing to watch
for is that this type of lighting tends to emphasize wrinkles. If your
subject wouldn’t like that, try a different direction that will make
For example, front lighting will not emphasize wrinkles as
much as side lighting will.
That brings us to our next area of lighting and that is back lighting.
Now, back lighting is where the brightest source of the light is coming
from behind the subject. The light falling on the subjects is less
intense and you end up with a silhouette.
This picture here is a
perfect example of what happens to a lot of amateur photographers.
The subjects are standing underneath the shade of a tree and a lot of
times we think, “stand in the shade of the tree, that's a great place
for the photo.”
The problem is that our eyes compensate and we don't
really notice how bright it is behind the subjects. The camera on the
other hand, doesn't have that compensation feature built in; we have to
tell it what to do.
So it sees the bright background, exposes for that,
which in essence under exposes our subjects.
Here's another situation
where the light is coming from behind the subjects that are walking
through a tunnel at Angel Stadium – and the light source, the sun, is
setting behind them creating this glowing effect.
So while silhouettes
are normally bad, they can be effectively used at times.
Those are the three main directions of light that we're going to look
at – front, side, and back lighting, and it is something that we need
to be thinking about and recognizing before, during and after our photo
You don't want to just pick your camera up and start shooting as a
photographer. If you want to progress as a photographer you need to
start noticing these things, looking for them.
What I tell my students
is to start looking at the light. Start studying light wherever you
are... what direction is the light coming from? Then you will truly
seeing the light and using it to create dynamic images.
How Important Is The Quality Of Light?
There's also something called the quality of light, and there are four
different qualities that we're going to talk about. The first is bright
Whether you're outside in the middle of the day and it is bright
or you're inside where there's a lot of illumination, that is where
bright light can occur. On this day there wasn't a lot of shadows, but
it was bright.
So we've got the kids in this little cut out here and
it's a great example of bright light.
Of course, the opposite occurs whenever there isn't a whole lot of
light present. This situation is called dim light and the next photo is
a perfect example.
Because there's less light, the camera has to somehow get more light
in, and it's usually done by either adjusting your shutter speed or
changing your F-Stop.
Point and shoot cameras will do this for you
automatically, and DSLRs will do it for you if you are in Program or
Just know that fewer parts of your photo will be in focus because of
there being less light.
For example, in this photo the subject’s eyes are in focus as is part
of her hair. Notice that the tip of her nose isn’t, but looking back at
the bright light image almost everything near the train is in focus.
That is one of the major differences in bright vs. dim lighting.
Here's an example of harsh light.
Harsh light can occur when the sun shining in somebody's face, or when
a direct flash is used. It produces very defined shadows. You have to
be careful when shooting in harsh lighting situations.
might be squinty or even unable to open their eyes. Specifically,
people with lighter colored eyes have extreme sensitivity to harsh
Sometimes, utilizing side or even backlighting can help the situation.
And the last light quality we'll discuss is soft light.
Soft light produces very even and almost un-detectable shadows. We can
see the shadow cast on the white wall up by her arm, but you'll notice
that the shadow is very soft and the lighting is very even.
our examples of bright and dim, harsh and soft. These are the main
different qualities of light that you need to be aware of.
Obviously there are other factors to think about, but as you recognize
these lighting situations it's only going to make your photography
Give yourself the assignment of identifying different
kinds of light. Then put your subject in them and take note of the
results. I've got a question for you. Have you ever taken a great
photo? Everyone wants to look at it and tell you how good you are, and
how you should do this for a living, and then you go out to do it again
and you can't reproduce it?
Well, part of that is being unable to
recognize the various types of light, the direction and the quality,
that were present when you took that photo. As you teach yourself to
recognize these different lighting situations, you'll be able to
accomplish that much easier.
You will be on your way to becoming a
Next, we're going to discuss a lighting situation I call "open shade."
Open shade is a photographer's best friend and your photo quality will
drastically improve when you learn to use it. If you're like most
photographers, the majority of the photos you'll take will be of people
and open shade is perfect for this.
We love to take pictures of our loved ones, of pretty girls, of
good-looking guys, so what's the best light for an amateur to
Not all of us have access to studio lighting and even if
we did, we probably wouldn’t know how to use it. Well, what is a good
(and free) light source?
One of the best lighting situations out there is called open shade.
Where does open shade happen? You guessed it... in an area shaded from
the full strength of the sun. In the shade.
So we need to look for it.
In the picture above, I'm using the shade of
a tree, but notice unlike that earlier picture of the two girls (under
a tree) that was silhouetted, we have enough light falling on the
subject so that the subject is for the most part brighter than
We've got that tree trunk in the background, and we do have
some little hotspots, but for the most part the camera saw the face of
our subject and exposed for that.
And you'll notice this open shade
lighting is very flattering. Very soft shadows, wrinkles don't show up
– although this baby doesn't have to worry about this – but as people
get older they do not want their wrinkles to show unless you're from
National Geographic and you're shooting the 115 year old Chinese lady
with 1,000 wrinkles.
Here's another example of open shade lighting... it’s so complementary
to the people we're photographing and especially
to their faces.
Open shade even occurs indoors. This photo was taken in
the foyer of a large building by a window and the window creates this
very soft light.
Remember this – even though you are in the shade,
there's still light there and it has a direction to it and a quality to
it just like we learned before. Look and see!
The direction of this light would be from camera right, as it comes
across from that bank of windows, and it's – let me just ask you? Is it
soft or harsh?
Soft is the correct answer.
The quality of the light is in the dim realm. But it's very nice, very
beautiful light. Our subject has a slight shadow on camera left side of
her face, but we can see into that shadow.
One other little tip here...
Look into the eyes of your subject. And you see how the iris
reflects/mirrors anything that's bright? These are called specular
highlights. The iris is reflecting the light source.
It is a great way
to figure out what type of lighting was used.
A great way to practice this tip is to go to the makeup counter at the
department store where they have those giant pictures of their models
wearing the makeup and looking all cool.
Look in their eyes and you can
see the studio type lighting that they used reflected in their eyes.
Here's another example of open shade.
We have our light source coming
from camera left washing across our model from left to right. She has a
slight shadow on the camera right side of her face. Very soft, very
complimentary to our model, and regardless of their age this would be
great light to put anyone in.
Next time you're looking to photograph
someone, see if you can put them in that light.
Of course my models were all under the age of 20, which is helpful when
you're trying not to show lines in people's faces, but the principles
work for everyone.
Open shade tends to be soft because there's not the
harshness that you get with direct light. And again, it's very
complimentary in most situations.
Didn't find what you're looking for?