Photography Lighting 101

Don’t think that photography lighting is just about having tons of expensive equipment inside a studio. Lighting exists in everything we see and therefore plays a part in every photo taken, whether it’s a professional camera or a simple point-and-shoot. Photography Lighting is all about handling natural light (the easiest, most accessible source) and simple artificial lights (flash and indoor light bulbs) given any situation—this is the stage before more complex lighting techniques.

Before getting into the technical aspect of photography lighting, it is important to break down “light” into three tones (highlights, mid-tones, and shadows), which exist in various levels throughout a picture. The levels are often closely related with exposure: extreme levels of highlights could mean that the photo is overexposed, while an extreme level of shadows could mean that the photo is underexposed. Photographers commonly aim to capture photos with a balance of highlights and shadows or a comfortable range of mid-tones. This is, of course, unless they are aiming for a certain artistic effect.

Here are a few techniques to achieve certain effects in your photography. You can also use these tips to neutralize lighting problems such as having too much shadow or too much light.


It is a good way to add shadows to your subject to capture silhouettes. This can be a very dramatic effect when used properly. Of course, backlighting can also cause problems when attempting to focus on the subject rather than the lighting. Quick fixes: Switch positions with your subject, turn on the camera flash, or add a light source in front of the subject to help the camera adjust on what to focus.

Side lighting

Side lighting casts half of the subject in shadows and the other half in bright light. While this can create a good dramatic balance, the shadows can sometimes be too harsh on one side, or have an unnatural effect overall. Quick fix: Turn shadows into mid-tones by reflecting the light back onto the more shadowy side of the subject using tin foil or a white board. This creates a more natural half-and-half effect.

Diffused lighting

It is about softening harsh lighting in order to achieve a natural look. In other words, it is the diffusion of highlights into mid-tones. Flash and the midday sun are examples of very harsh lighting that can negatively affect the appearance of your photography. Quick fixes: With natural light, find shade under a tree, a cloud, or an umbrella. Translucent materials are preferable so that the shadows do not come out too harshly. With flash and other artificial lights, you can either bounce off the light or turn it off and just adjust the settings of your camera.

In summary, photography lighting is about neutralizing any light into acceptable mid-tones. Nobody wants harsh bright lights taking the attention off their subject, nor do they want dark shadows covering it up. Balance is the key to achieve amazing photographs and practice is the best way to get it just right. Try out the quick fixes above the next time you encounter lighting problems.