How To Get The Perfect Lighting In Photos

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Good photography is mostly about lighting. Whether you’re taking a selfie, a portrait of someone else or a stunning shot of a landscape, it’s important to consider where the lighting is and the lighting levels. This post explains a few beginner tips to help you get the best lighting in photos. 

Identify your main light source

The main light source or ‘key light’ is the most important light source in a photo. It’s typically the strongest light and the one you need to think most carefully about. When taking pictures outdoors during daylight hours, the key light will usually be the sun. In other cases, a strong artificial light may be used. Where is the best place for the key light to be positioned? Usually behind the camera at a 30 degree angle. When taking selfies or portraits of others, this ensures that the light is pointing directly onto their face without the subject having to look directly into the light.

Know where to additional light sources

Additional light sources can often be useful for helping to light up a subject. Many professional photographers will use three point lighting - this involves having a key light, backlight and fill light. The backlight is placed behind the subject at a 30 degree angle to separate them from the background. The fill light is meanwhile placed behind the camera with the key light, but on the opposite side at 30 degrees. This post explains more about the three point lighting system.

Consider the time of day

If you’re shooting indoors in a windowless room and you’re relying wholly on artificial light, the time of day may not matter. However, if you’re shooting outdoors or there is a window providing light, the time of day could have a big impact on the lighting levels in your shot. During the middle of the day, the light from the sun can be very intense and it can make outdoor photography much more difficult to pull off. The time of the day in which it’s easiest to get striking photos is the ‘golden hour’ - which is one hour after sunrise or alternatively one hour before sunset. This lighting typically creates a warm glow that can be magical. 

Use a lux meter

Lux meters are used to measure the exact levels of lighting, which can be useful if you are a photographer trying to achieve a specific level of brightness. Some photographers will experiment with lux meters when taking various photos and make a record of the different measurements so that they can try to recreate these after taking a great photo. You can buy these devices online. 

Understand light temperature

Light temperature can also be important to consider when taking photos. Certain light sources have a redder ‘warmer’ tone while others have a bluer ‘cooler’ tone. Both can be used to create different moods. Light sources that are on the warmer end of the spectrum include candles, tungsten bulbs and the dawn/dusk sun. Light sources that are cooler include the midday sun, flash photography and moonlight. 

Experiment with shadows

Shadows are not always the enemy in photography. In fact, they can often create very cool effects from intentional silhouettes to partial facial shadows. Experiment with placement of lighting to what types of shadows you can create. 


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