Photography Lighting Techniques


There are many photography lighting techniques that can bring out different aspects of a picture. These involve manipulating light that already exists as well as strategically placing man-made light sources to create the desired effects. Both amateur and professional photographers can use these photography lighting techniques with relative ease to create better photographs.


The basic indoor photography lighting technique is to triangulate your light. You need three light sources: key lights, back lights and fill lights. The brightest light is the key light. It should shine on the subject from behind the photographer and slightly to the side. This brightens the side of the subject that the camera sees. The back light is behind the subject and shines on the backside. This distinguishes the subject from the background. Fill lights shine across the subject from contrasting angles to the key light and fill in shadows. The fill lights must not be as bright as the key light. Photography requires contrast to give the illusion of depth. This is achieved by the slightly uneven lighting.


The basic outdoor photography lighting technique is to work around the sun. Turn your subject so that it is facing the sun, or move the camera until the sun is at your back. This way, the sun acts as your key light. If this is impractical, use a fill-in flash to get rid of shadows. Set your camera to flash even though there is enough ambient light. On sunny days, there is no need for a back light; you can use a reflector as a fill light source, if necessary. On bright cloudy days, there is diffused light with no shadows--this can add a very pleasant effect to photographs.


A photography lighting technique commonly used by professional photographers is called"golden hour" light. This is the light produced by the sun an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset. The long wavelengths of this sunlight glows soft and warm. It makes skin tones gleam and everyone look better. Since the sun is low on the horizon, it hits most subjects at eye level. This creates very few shadows and requires little extra lighting. Just make sure that your subject is facing the sun.


Backlighting is an alternative photography lighting technique, where the backlight is the brightest light source. It creates shadowy silhouettes and draws the eye to the background. Backlighting is especially effective when the scenery is spectacular. For example, shooting a model in front of a sunset creates a silhouette of the model's figure in front of the dramatic colors of the setting sun. Backlighting is also effective if you want to evoke mystery, intrigue or terror.


A more creative photography lighting technique is focused lighting. Sometimes the largest and most centrally located object in a picture is not where the photographer wants your focus. A number of smaller lights can be used to highlight specific things. These should produce a narrow beam of light. "Barn door" covers help narrow light; gels placed over lights create fuzzy, diffused effects; colored filters bring out specific shades not normally seen by the naked eye.

About this Author

Kent Ninomiya is a veteran journalist with 23 years experience as a television news anchor, reporter and managing editor. He traveled to more than 100 countries on all seven continents, including Antarctica. Ninomiya holds a Bachelor of Arts in social sciences with emphasis in history, political science and mass communications from the University of California at Berkeley.

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