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Photography lighting - 12 Questions to ask yourself before clicking a picture

Photography is the art of capturing light. Lighting of any given scene or subject is the most important element that determines how the final image will turn out. Great photographs result from great lighting, the skill to understand the light in any given situation, modify it, sculpt the subject with it and capture it with the camera is what master photographers do different from mediocre photographers.

In this article we will discuss 12 questions which anyone who wish to improve his/her lighting skills should consider asking himself/herself before clicking a picture. Make it a habit to go through these questions in a sequence and answer it at any given scene and evaluating and getting the best out any given lighting situation will become second nature to you.

1. What is the source of main light?

Lighting in a given scene could be from any of the different sources, sunlight, moonlight Incandescent Light, Fluorescent Light, Street Lights, Neon Lights, Camera flash, oil lamps, candle light and more. Each light has its own characteristics so firstly identify the source of main light in your frame.

Photo By Sprengben

2. What Colour temperature is the Light?

Depending on the light source the light in a scene may have a colour temperature. Colour temperature of light affects the look and feel of the picture as they influence how the colours in a given scene are rendered. In order to render accurate colours in a scene, you need to adjust your camera’s white balance setting to match the colour temperature of the light in the scene. You will find detailed information about it in this article – How to set Custom white Balance in your Camera

photography lighting
Photo By Gazzat

3. Where is the Light Coming From?

The angle and direction from which the light falls on your subject is what determines which areas in your picture will be lit and which areas will remain in shadows. Depending on the angle, elevation and direction from which light falls on a subject; the affect it has changes, like revealing shape, texture and form. The most common lighting scenarios are as follows:

photography light
Photo By Sunsur fr

a. Front-lighting

In front-lighting light originates from the same angle as that of the camera. Front lighting is not suitable for most photographic situations as it tends to give a flattened look to subjects. A picture taken with on camera flash is a good example of front-lit image. In order to get better shape and definition try moving either your light or your subject so that the light comes from a slightly different angle than the camera lens.

b. Back-lighting

When light originates from the behind the subject it is called back-lighting. Back-lighting can be good for portraits, but one need to compensate for lack on light on the subject by either using a reflector or using a fill flash.

c. Side-lighting

When light strikes your subject from sides it is called side lighting. In many situations you will find that the light does not come directly from the sides but also a bit from the front or rear of the subject. In such situations it is better to adjust the position of the light or the subject to make the light fall from somewhere in between front-lighting or side-lighting.

d. Overhead Lighting

When light originates from directly above the subject as it happened during noon it is called overhead lighting. This is also a kind of lighting generally not suitable for many subjects. It will also cause harsh shadows below the eyes and chin. Using a fill light either via a reflector or a flash could help fill in those shadows.

4. How big or small is the light source when compared to my subject?

The size of the light source in relation to your subject is one factor that determines how harsh or soft the light in a given situation is. If the light source is much larger than your subject then you will get soft light and if the light source is tiny when compared to your subject you will have hard lighting in your picture.

photography lighting tutorial
Photo By Polvero

5. How Far Away Is the Light from my subject?

Apart from the size of the light source in relation to the subject, the distance from the light source to the subject is what determines how hard or soft the light will be. Same Light source when placed close to the subject will be proportionately much bigger than when placed much further. A good example is the sun. Even though sun is a mighty big light source, we get harsh light from sun because it is millions of kilometres away.

digital photography
Photo By Dhammza

6. How Bright Is the Light?

The exposure values that could be used to capture a scene are mainly determined by the intensity of light. Brightly lit scenes, low light scenes, scenes where the lighting for the main subject and the lighting for the background is in two extremes all call for creative use of Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO combinations.

photography lighting
Photo By Frank Wuestefeld

7. What is the quality of light available at the scene?

Hard light causes sharp edged shadows and high contrast pictures, in comparison soft light causes graduated shadows and much less contrast in pictures. Both hard light and soft light could be used creatively to produce different effects or feel to subjects it is the final effect desired by the photographers that decides the Quality of Light to be used in any particular situation.

photography soft light
Photo By Torpore

8. Is the light suitable for my subject or do I need to diffuse it?

Depending on the final effect you would like to have on your picture, you should consider whether to diffuse the light available or not. If the light available on scene is hard light and what you desire in your final result demands soft light, by all means use Diffusers to make the harsh light softer.

photography hard light
Photo By Shandilee

9. Would using a Gel on my lights improve the Image?

If your scene consists of multiple light sources you might consider using Gels to match your flash or strobe with that of either fluorescent or incandescent lights. Having light with even colour balance across the picture will make post processing a much easier task.

photography light
Photo By Polvero

10. Is the contrast within manageable limits or do I need to reflect light into the scene?

Look for areas that are in the shadows, if the contrast is too high you may want to fill in some of the shadows with light and the easiest method is to use some Reflectors and reflect some ambient light on to the shadows, you could use anything with a light colour as a reflector. Keep in mind that when light is reflected off a surface it also picks up the colon of the surface from which it reflected. So if you do not wish coloured light in your scene use neutral white materials as reflectors.

photography lighting tips
Photo By Fusion of Horizons

11. Will a fill light improve my picture?

Similar to using reflectors, fill lights allow one to reduce the contrast in a scene. Fill lights allows the photographer more control over the placement, intensity and spread of light. Fill lights also could be employed if the contrast in the scene falls beyond the dynamic range of your digital camera.

photography lighting
Photo By Ejmc

12. Am I in complete control of My Gear?

Having a perfect understanding of the capabilities and limitations of your gear, knowing each and every control and its functions and effects on the lighting etc. will help you get the maximum out of your lighting equipment. Apart from your camera and its functions; A good understanding of light, its properties, how light behaves, light modifiers, colour of light, mixing ambient light with flash etc. is a must to become a successful photographer.

photography lighting
Photo By  Sprengben

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