A Basic Guide To The Fundamentals Of Lighting For Photography

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It goes without saying how crucial a source of light is to photography. How you place it, the intensity, its color, the temperature, the hardness, and all its entailing elements speak through an image. As you play with light and shadow and start to paint with light, that is where it gives birth to the art of photography. 

Lighting in photography can seem to be a complicated element, but understanding it is key. Once you grasp the idea of the core characteristics of lighting and learn to apply it outdoors and indoors, you can unlock your full creative potential.

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There are some fundamental characteristics that can help you paint your photo. Before we dive into them, you should learn to use photographic lighting as natural light may not always be on your terms. Some commonly used artificial light include flash, LED, Incandescent, and fluorescent. Softboxes, covers, filters, bounce, and grids are used to manipulate the harshness and hue of the light. 

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Fundamentals of photography lighting 

Here are the top fundamental characteristics of lightening you should consider while taking a photograph

  • Quantity or the Intensity of light
  • The quality or the hardness of light
  • The direction of the light 
  • Temperature of light 

Quantity or the Intensity of light

The intensity of the light refers to the strength of the light, where it can be bright or dim. Our eye adjusts to the light’s intensity as our iris automatically opens and closes. Whereas for the camera, you must work with its exposure triangle. When there is not enough light, it is underexposed; when it is too much, it is overexposed. 

The camera uses three controls: the aperture (the f/stop), shutter speed, and ISO level. In case of intense light (like in the middle of the day), you would want to lower your ISO, increase the shutter speed, and keep the aperture small (lens opening to minimal, large f/stop). This prevents overexposed images.

In a low-light scenario, you can apply these same controls the other way around. If you increase the ISO level, slow your shutter speed, and open your aperture (small f/stop), it will help you from getting underexposed images. 

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The quality or the hardness of light 

The quality of light is often described as soft light or hard light. The difference between each is usually seen in shadows produced by different light sources. 

Soft light creates fewer softer shadows and mild differentiation between light and shadow. It comes from a diffuse source and is non-directional. A foggy day, a cloudy morning, or light bouncing off something are examples of soft light. 

In contrast, hard light is directional, harsh, and casts strong shadows. A sunny midday photograph would be the best example of harsh light. Though hard light is used to create edgy shades and a dramatic portrait, photographers don’t always lean for striking sharp edges. You can create soft light with a diffuser or a flash bounce. 

The quality of light you choose is entirely dependent on the choice of mood and aesthetic you are going for. However, you must have a basic understanding of the quality of light and how it impacts an image.  

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The direction of the light 

A photo tells a story through lighting, depth, color, and intensity. The direction of light is manipulated to create a sense of depth in the photograph by determining the length of the shadows. Rather than having a flat image, you can bring out its depth by changing the angle where the light strikes the subject

In the outdoors, you have to change the subject according to sunlight. In the studio, you can move around your key, back, and fill light to create your desired image. An ideal setting used is having the fill light at a 45-degree angle to create the depth of shadows desired. 

Temperature of light 

The temperature or the color sets the mood of the photograph. A blue shade of tint gives a cool effect, and a gold or orange tint or shade provides a warm effect. The color temperatures are cited on the Kelvin scale, ranging from 1000 k from the warmer end to 10000 k to the cooler end of the scale. 

The golden light or the warmer tint gives off happy, courteous, and friendly vibes. The blue tones of fluorescent light, or a cold night, give off a moody, cold vibe, which I think can be exceptionally artistic if used elegantly.

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In conclusion 

Photography is an art where you paint with light. With a good grasp of these technicalities, you can play around with light and paint something that comes off like a dream. Learning to control the light and create a scene that is technically balanced will give an edge to this field. Practice correcting modes with white balance set the proper light direction, and master the exposure triangle. 

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A writing enthusiast who inclines toward photography and an artistic way of expression. Started writing blogs by the end of her degree studies and continued to do so with much more involvement in designing and marketing. She enjoys her free time doing self-care, listening to music, and capturing some stories.