Lighting can often make or break the picture. When shooting in natural light (outside, in the sun, or window lighting) it’s important to keep in mind the time of day. The characteristics of the natural light change as the time of day changes. The changes in environmental light can be used to the photographer’s advantage. Light also functions according to the angel the photo is taken. We may not be able to control where the light is coming from, but we can manipulate it with the our subject.

These are the basic guidelines to how lighting works in an image:

  • Light travels in straight lines. Once deflected, it’s directed in another path
  • The closer a subject is to the light, the more light it will receive. There is less illumination as the subject moves farther away in distance from light. So, if you double the distance between you and the subject, you get ¼ of the light.
  • The larger the light source in relation to your subject, the softer the light. So, the softness of the light is in correlation with the size of light source from the target’s position.

Small light source = hard/directional light

Large light source = soft light

The actual size of light doesn’t have anything to do with this, but how it appears to the subject

How to manipulate light:

Aim to have the source of light coming from the side. This creates a natural shot and allows the colors to appear the most accurate. If the light is directly behind the subject it gives off a shadowy, unrealistic silhouette effect (unless that’s what you’re going for- which is how many photographers get their desired effects)

Demonstrated below, the image to the left is what were going for, as for the one on the right, you can see how the direct sunlight behind the subject (my awesome dad:) makes the image seem unbalanced. To solve this problem I simply asked him to switch sides.


In other instances, you as the photographer may have to adjust your position or angle to manipulate the light how you want it to appear. Everyone has a personal preference- What’s yours?


Same subject, different angle


Here are some examples of how to capture light in an image properly



~Creative Lighting Techniques~

Nontraditional drastic lighting effects often breaks these rules. Place light directly behind or in front of subject. By doing this, shadows will be enhanced and give photo a unique touch as well as added volume.

In this photo, the source of light was coming directly in front of the flower this causes the shadow to appear behind it


As for this one, the sun hits the subject directly so by taking the picture from below the subject (also known as worm’s-eye view) it appears as a silhouette



Try not to use flash unless you crucially need more light. The use of flash when unnecessary causes the images colors to fade, or look fake. It can also cause the picture to have a white-out effect in which a portion of the image is unclear due to a huge lighting glare. When using flash, layout the shot so that your subject isn’t standing near any walls, this creates an awkward shadow effect.

In this photo, I decided to use flash to give how delicious this soup looks justice. In this case, the flash enhanced the colors and doesn’t give off that white-out effect


I did NOT use flash in the next photo due to the excessive light already present, there’s no need for it


More with manipulating the light:





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