Photography is dependent on light. What the light is doing, the subject and the quality of light can direct. Informational and emotional responses when we look at a photograph. Look carefully before you shoot… at the intensity, quality and direction of the light. See the way it falls on the subject and models the forms. Understanding the placement of artificial light will help you develop the skills in utilizing natural light

Qualities of light:

1. Direct light: Direct light creates hard-edges and dark shadows. The rays of the light are parallel, striking the subject from one direction. The smaller the light (relative to the size of the subject) or the farther the light is from the subject, the sharper and darker the shadows will be. Very sharp shadows are created by a point source or a single point of light.

Examples: a spotlight or the sun on a clear day


2. Fully diffused light: Fully diffused light scatters onto the subject from many directions. It shows little or no directionality. Shadows are indistinct and subjects seem surrounded by light.

Examples: a heavily overcast sky, light bounced off an umbrella, white reflector, white wall or ceiling, light sent through diffusion material such as a white transparent umbrella or soft box

3. Reflected light: Reflected light occurs when light is bounced off a white or reflective surface and falls on the subject. The light rays bounce off the reflected surface and create a softer lighting condition.

4. Directional / Diffused light: a directional / diffused light combination is partially direct rays of light with some diffused or scattered rays. It appears to come from a definite direction and creates distinct shadows, but with edges that are softer than those of direct light. The shadow edges change smoothly from light to medium dark, and the shadows tend to have more visible detail.

Examples: sunlight coming in from windows or doorways.

5. Radiant light: light coming from the source directly into the camera lens. Beware of lens flare. Used mostly with special effects and silhouettes.

Example: person standing in front of a window with bright light coming in, shooting into the sun.


Five Directions of light:


1. Front lighting: Flattens space, little texture, few shadows

2. Side lighting: contrasty, texture, strong shadows, volume, dramatic

3. Back Lighting: usually how we are used to seeing people, light source from above. Examples: ceiling lights and the sun

4. Bottom lighting: Reverses shadows, scary, weird shadows.



Three principles of light:


1. Light travels in straight lines

2. The angle of incidence is equal to and opposite from the angle of reflection meaning; a light ray hitting a flat / smooth surface from a particular angle will reflect off that surface at an equal but opposite angle. (textured surfaces reflecting light will diverge from this principle and scatter light in many directions.)

3. Light from a source changes in intensity proportional to the inverse of the square of the relative distance from the source. This means; the closer the light the illuminations increases and the farther the light the illumination decreases. Light falls off by a factor of 4, which is equivalent to 2 stops each time the distance is doubled


Basic lighting methods:


There should be one dominant light source. This is to as the MAIN LIGHT or KEY LIGHT. All other lights are subordinate to this source, and are referred to as the FILL LIGHT(s).


THE MAIN LIGHT: The placement of the main light in relation to the position of the subject / object is classified as follows:


A. Front lighting / Broad Lighting: the main light illuminates the side of the face / object turned toward the camera. The light may be placed close to the camera axis in a “full on” frontal shot. This lighting deemphasizes textures and flattens volume.

B. High Front Lighting: often referred to as “glamour” lighting. The light is placed directly in front of the face at a 45 degree angle and cast a nose shadow directly underneath the nose in the shape of a butterfly.

C. High Side Lighting / Short Lighting / Rembrandt Lighting: the main light illuminates the side of the face turned away from the camera and is aimed 45 degrees to the subject. This position causes a triangular shaped highlight to appear on one cheek. This is the classic angle for portrait lighting.

D. Side Lighting / Split Lighting / Hatchet Lighting: The main light is at 90 degrees horizontal to the subject, usually at subject height. This emphasizes textures.

E. Under Lighting: The main light is below subject height. This lighting creates unnatural shadows and an “evil” or “monster” look.

F. Rear Side Lighting / Back Lighting / “Kicker”: The main light is behind the side of the subject, usually at 45 degrees or more. This creates drama, mystery, and will emphasis surface texture. Can also be used as an acent light. (you must be careful of lens flare)

G. Direct Back Lighting: produces the object or subject in silhouette.


The Fill Light: The fill light is usually placed close to the lens axis. Use of a fill light will eliminate or lighten (“fill or open up”) the shadow caused by the main light, thus reducing negative contrast.


A. Reflector Method: Used to bounce main light into the shadow areas. Use a large white card or white studio reflector material. For a harder, more brilliant light, use tin foil or silver reflector material.

B. Lighting Method: In order to have the fill light only fill in dark or shadow area of the scene, it is necessary that this light source be of a lesser intensity or be placed farther away from the scene to be considered as a “fill” light.


Tips for the background Shadows:


1. Keep your subject far enough away from the background so it wont cast an unwanted shadow.

2. Feather your main light, either with a barn door or by turning the light. “Feathering” illuminates the subject with the peripheral are of the light cone.

3. Use a background light. Pointed at the background, the background light lightens background shadows and will separate the subject from the background. Meter your background so it wont wash out. It should be the same or slightly less illuminated than the subject. Do not get the background light too close to the background were it could cause it to burn the background material… in fact never put any reflective or diffusion material too close to the hot tungsten lights