The Basics of Lighting

Lighting Tips for Beginner Photographers

​Lighting for Beginners

Light is everything in all forms of art. The same subject and composition can look completely different if you simply change the lighting. Whether you add it yourself or you use natural light at different times of the day, the effects can be quite dramatic.

As a photographer, you have a multitude of lighting options available to you. Some are free (sun), some cheap and some are expensive. However, always remember that light is just light.

If comes in many variations with regards to temperature and brightness but it is light nonetheless. Knowing which type of light, filters and manipulation to use is an art form in itself. We are only going to cover the very basics here to give you a general understanding.

There are 10 sections on lighting in the next module.

Types of light available to you

To keep things simple, here is a non-exhaustive list of light sources you can use for photography:

  • Daylight (Sun)
  • Moonlight
  • Candlelight
  • Reflections of any of the above
  • External speedlights, flashguns and studio flash
  • Continuous studio lights (can be expensive)
  • LED lights (affordable, powerful and cool lighting)
  • Torches
  • Light from a TV, Smartphone or Tablet
  • Car/motorbike headlights
  • Built-in camera (pop up) flash
  • Specialist lights (Lume Cubes etc)

Example of 2 ​types of ​lighting

The shot of AnaMaria on the left below, was taken outside and late in the day as the sun was setting. I used just natural light. The shot on the right was taken about an hour later.

We were still outside using just one big studio flash unit with a large softbox. A fast shutter speed was used to kill any natural light in the sky behind the subject.

Lighting Tips for Beginner Photographers

Do you see the difference it makes with regards to skin tones, hair colour and the catchlights in the eyes? You always need to be aware of what the light is doing and decide which, if any, additional lights to use (flash, studio lights, reflector etc).

Becoming more aware of light and how it works is fundamental to the success of any art including photography. If you can reach a deep understanding (through practice) of light and how it affects:

  • Mood
  • Appearance
  • Skin tones
  • Shadows
  • Detail
  • Landscapes
  • Colour

...you are almost there.

Think about it. If you know what you want to shoot and where, how to compose it well, how to use the best light available at the right time of day, use the correct camera settings (that you will learn here) that will enhance the image even more…what else do you need? You are a photographer my friend!

​Example of poor lighting

Poor example of Lighting

​ (​Click for larger images)

Poor example of Lighting

These two shots have done this fantastic landmark in Dorset no justice whatsoever. As I was there anyway, I took some shots for stock and guess what? These have barely ever sold!

I plan to go back in better weather and I am sure you can imagine how a dramatic, Jurassic landscape would look with sunny blue skies behind! Click the link below to see a perfect example of waiting for the right light at the location above.

Early morning, lovely sun and great composition: Burton Bradstock

That doesn’t mean to say that all photos have to be taken in bright sunshine to appeal to somebody. Take this next shot for instance. I was driving through Lincoln one winter’s day and saw this scene and for some reason I liked it in all its gloomy glory.

Gloomy Lighting for Stock

I took a shot and even uploaded it to a stock agency and lo and behold, it sold for $295.80! Ka-ching! Surprised? You need to read our stock photography section then : )

That should start to give you an idea of how important lighting is with photography. Learn to understand and control it and your photography will improve dramatically. We cover a lot more ground in the next module (DSLR/Mirrorless Training).




Have a look around you to see what types of lighting you have available. You'd be surprised at how much you may have.

  • 1
    ​Do you own a flashgun?
  • 2
    ​A table lamp?
  • 3
    ​A string of white Christmas lights?
  • 4
    ​Perhaps you own a torch or two?
  • 5
    ​Do you have a good source of window light?

When you really start to look, light is everywhere.

Have a play and make the most of what you have and remember to position your subject (person or object) accordingly to be the most flattering.

Learn to see the light at any time of day, wherever you are and use it well. Any form of light can be used to make great images, it's just about how you go about manipulating it.