Know Your Lights – Lighting Guide for Photography

How to get the best lighting for every shot

So, you’ve bought your first ‘real’ camera and you’ve realised it’s more than just point and shoot. Maybe your photos are too dark or maybe they’re over exposed. Studio lighting is the most important and often the most complicated aspect of photography, but it doesn’t have to be that way. For every type of photo you are wanting to take, there’s a simple and easy way to get your lighting right the first time, every time. 

The key to any great photography starts with understanding your lighting. Whether you’re in the studio capturing your next album cover or creating mouth watering pictures of your latest kitchen creation, lighting is the key to creating the photographs of dreams. Lighting not only determines the brightness or darkness of your images, but also creates tone, mood and atmosphere. Whether you’re using natural or artificial lighting, knowing how to storytell with light and use it to your advantage can take your images from mediocre to breathtaking in a flash.

In our latest guide we explore what you will need for each shot to really hone your craft and create photos anyone will find irresistible.

Event Photography

Consider the environment – When it comes to shooting events, there are many things to take into consideration. Is the event outdoors or indoors, is it during the day or at night? All these elements will affect your choice of lighting.  

Lighting sources – The most important part of event photography is finding and capturing great moments. If the venue you’re shooting in is dimly lit, you may need the help of additional lighting sources. Whereas if it’s a bright outdoor daytime event, take into account the natural lighting and direction of the sun to avoid any unwanted shadows that can ruin your shot. 

Natural light – Where possible, work with the natural lighting of the venue and avoid flashes as much as possible, or you can miss out on capturing the essence of the event. 

Best event photography camera: Nikon D750

Food Photography

Food photos are everywhere at the moment. Whether they’re images on UberEats or you’re scrolling through the Gram and notice a drool-worthy photo by a food blogger, the key to any craving-inducing food photo begins with a good lighting setup. Good lighting for food photography requires three elements: sidelight, a diffuser and a reflector.

Lighting setup by Rachel Korinek

The sidelight – the light source being used next to your scene. This could be natural or artificial lighting. The key is to place your subject with the light falling onto it from either side. 

The diffuser – should be placed between your subject and your light source to soften the light, creating a dreamy glow.  Using a diffuser, helps to distribute and diffuse the light evenly over your subject. 

The reflector –  to evenly light your creation, place the reflector on the other side of your scene to fill in any shadows that are created.  While a reflector does not create new light, it does redirect the existing light to the direction it is pointed.  Use a reflector to bounce diffused light back onto your culinary creations, and lift any leftover shadows to showcase the detail of your subject. 

Bon appetit, edible images in an instant!

Best food photography camera: Canon Rebel T6i

Product Photography

The goal of product photography is literally to show your products in the best light. Enticing window shoppers to purchase your scroll-stopping  products requires the right lighting. When it comes to product photography there are three lighting fundamentals that will ensure you nail your shot every time: your key, fill and back lights.

Product photography by Everyday Co.

The Key Light

your main light source, this should always be pointed directly at the product you are shooting.

The Fill Light

is a lower intensity light, used as your secondary light source and should be positioned on the opposite side of the key light. (Play around with placing the light further away to see what works for your shot.) 

The Back Light

can either be a single light or two lights that are positioned behind, or behind and above the product you are shooting. The back light is used to give greater definition to the product, ensuring that it doesn’t fade into the background. 

Best product photography camera: Nikon D850

Portrait Photography

Portrait photography is about capturing the essence of your subject and like every area of photography, it’s about showing your subject in the best light. Whether you’re creating corporate headshots or in the studio shooting models for an ad campaign, lighting is the foundation of any well executed portrait photograph. 

Playing around with lighting can change the mood of the photo and help create beautiful shadows that can really flatter your subject, showing off their best features while minimising the features they may not like.  Lighting is also used to help create and convey emotion in your images.  Darker lighting can be used to create dramatic, moody images, while brighter lighting can convey happiness and openness. 

The three lighting elements of portrait photography are: front lighting, side lighting and backlighting.

Portrait Photography – Dylan Crawford

Front Lighting

To set up your front lighting, position your model so that the light is directly in front of them to bring out the detail in their face and body, and allow shadows to fall behind them. 

Side Lighting

Bring depth into your photos by using side lighting. Position your light source so that the light hits your model from the side to create beautiful shadows and depth. Watch how the shadow falls and either adjust your model or light source to create interesting or more flattering shadows. 

Back Lighting

Your final light source in portrait photography is back lighting. This is probably one of the trickiest setups to get right, but once you get the hang of it, you can create portraits that really pop and give your model a beautiful glow.  Backlighting is used to create depth and bring emotion to your photographs. When used correctly, backlighting creates a dramatic contrast between your model and the background. 

To effectively use back lighting, you will need an understanding of your camera’s manual mode

When placing a light behind your model, all the light’s shadows will be in front of your subject turning them into a silhouette. However, adjusting the exposure using the manual modes of your camera will ensure that your subject is properly exposed.

Proceed with caution and adjust your camera’s exposure as need be because sometimes this can leave the background overexposed. An overexposed image is the result of too much light being allowed in during exposure, resulting in an over bright photograph. Overexposure can leave you with images that lack detail and prevent you from conveying the highlights or shadows of the subject you are photographing. 

Top tip to prevent an overexposed background: Use a reflector or a flash in front of your model to provide a more even exposure, while maintaining a beautiful, soft backlit glow. 

Best portrait photography camera: Nikon D850

Master portrait lighting with our free lighting guide!

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