The rise of digital photography has created another boom—it’s never been easier to start your own photography business. The tools to take great photos and run a small business have never been more accessible, but there’s more to thriving as a photographer than knowing how to frame a shot.
One of the most important skills for a photographer to learn is how to work with light. Photography is, in essence, the capture of light.
Here are four essential concepts that will get you on your way to capturing amazing images.
Learn to size up a room
Take a look around, wherever you are at the moment. You’re part of a scene. How would you describe the lighting? What kinds of lights are around you?
This isn’t the type of thing a person would normally stop and think about walking into a room, but if you’re a photographer, you have to! For example, does the room you’re in have fluorescent lights or incandescent? Are the tones warm or cool? Are the lights at single points or diffused by soft panels?
All lights are not created equal. They all have unique attributes like brightness, softness and temperature. Different light sources can work together–or they can work against each other.
Natural daylight is generally considered the best light source because it has a broad spectrum. Rooms with large windows can be a great asset, but on the other hand, if a beam of direct sunlight falls directly on your subject then you may need to try to find another spot in the room to shoot. The goal in this scenario is to have the sunlight to bounce and fill the room without directly landing on your subject.
Wherever you are, the first step to becoming a master at lighting is to look around you and see what you have to work with.
Dealing with light color temperatures
One of the biggest challenges when lighting on location for video or stills is all the different color temperatures.
If you’ve ever bought a pack of light bulbs, you’ve dealt with color temperatures. Soft white, bright white or cool white–they all have a completely different look that can completely throw you off if you try to mix and match. If you read the fine print on these bulbs, you can discover what their actual estimated color temperature is, measured in units of kelvin.
As a photographer, you’ll need to get used to thinking in terms of kelvin values. Your camera’s auto-white balance can’t save you here, because your camera can only match one of the light colors to true white. The second or third kelvin value light will either look too warm or cool and can throw off your shot.
The key is to always try to match up the light color temperatures in your scene, especially when they are not just background elements but actually cast onto your subject.
Control the key light
The key light is your dominant light source.
You need to be able to control your light sources to ensure your subject won’t have any distracting shadows or colors on their face.
If you’re shooting outside, the key light source will typically be the sun. It’s challenging and unadvisable to try to overpower the sun with light sources. One exception is during “golden hour,” the moments during sunset when the sun is at its furthest angle. During this time, the sun is less intense and casts a beautiful warm hue on subjects.
In most cases, controlling the sun as a photographer simply means diffusing it over your subject with a “scrim” or blocking completely with a heavy black piece of fabric called a “flag.”
If it’s a cloudy day, you’re in luck for your portrait session because the sun is already diffused. You won’t get a big blue sky in the background but it’s always more important that your subject is lit well. Another approach if you are on the go in broad daylight is to take cover in the shade and if possible, add some light to your subjects’ faces. The drawback to shooting in the shade is that if your background is in broad daylight, it is easy to get blown out.
Indoors, controlling the light typically means you need to be able to light the scene with your own light, which gives you far more control. That will be your “key” light. At the same time, think about turning off any lights that detract from your scene. Modern DSLR’s can perform very well in low light, but they can’t prevent the color casts created by mixed lighting.
Use shadows to create contrast in your images
In general, the more light the better.
However, contrast is how photographers impart depth and interest into their images. You can’t have an image with beautiful contrast unless the image includes sections that are brighter and parts that are darker.
Take a moment while you’re composing your image to think about what you want to be dark in your photos, in addition to what you want to be illuminated. Visualize it and then position your subjects or your lights to create contrast. In time, this will become second nature.
Considering darkness as part of your process will give your images a more dynamic look that results in a more engaging photographic result. As a bonus, it’s also often cheaper and easier to remove light than to add light.
Create space between your light and the camera
Have you encountered bright spots on your subjects’ foreheads from flashes? Bright spots in their eyes? That might be because the light you’re using is too close to the lens. The beam of light is bouncing back too directly into the camera from the source, causing a harsh reflection.
Videographers or photographers should avoid relying solely on a camera-mounted light, because of this unpleasing effect.
For portrait photography, an ideal setup is to have a key light on one side of the camera and a fill light on the other, situated at least several feet away. This will diffuse the light and prevent those nasty bounce-back effects.
If you can’t do a lighting set up like this, a ring light that goes completely around the camera is a good bet for soft portrait looks. This type of light prevents any single “hot spot” from appearing on the subject’s face and fills in shadows nicely, making wrinkles and imperfections less noticeable.
That’s a wrap!
Photography lighting can be an everyday struggle or a powerful skill that makes you stand out and become a better photographer. Ultimately, it depends on how deep you’re willing to dive into exploring light to capture great photos!
At Simple Booth, we’re passionate about great lighting and we want to help all types of businesses capture stunning visual content. Our favorite ring light is the one we created, called HALO®.Learn About HALO