Get the right lighting

Lighting is the single most critical factor in determining the quality of any photograph. Although with digital cameras you can edit after the fact, such features are limited and it is more effective to assure that you get the best exposure when taking the shot. The amount of light on the image sensor, or exposure, is determined by the opening/closing of the aperture, the length of time that the shutter is open, and the amount of light present. For the purposes of this article, the discussion will be limited to working with and enhancing the light present for the shot…

Glamour modelLight is a very critical component of photography. After all, if there was no light, then you don’t get photographs. Its true that you have a good safety net with digital photography because you are allowed to edit the photographs after taking them, but it is always good to strive for correct exposure when you take the picture. Three factors affect the exposure of your photographs: how large an aperture you will have, how long the shutter remains open and how much light is present.

When you find yourself in low-light situations or sometimes if you want to create specific effects, you can use an external light source or a flash. Amateur photographers will appreciate the fact that modern digital cameras have built-in flashes that will usually activate automatically when the light is insufficient. One thing to remember, however, is that a flash isn’t a secret, all powerful weapon. It does have a limitation in its range. If your subject is beyond the range of your flash, then you will have photographs that look like no flash was used at all. You will do well to learn the range of your flash and compose photographs to have your subjects lie within this range. Generally speaking, you will mostly want to use your flash indoors when the light is insufficient. One common phenomenon of flash photography when using people or animals as subjects is the dreaded ‘red-eye’ effect. The light from the flash bounces back from the retina of the subject and this can be seen as the subjects having unsightly red eyes. One way to avoid this is to have the subject look slightly away from the camera.

Another way is by using the red-eye reduction feature of your camera. When in red-eye reduction mode, the camera will first emit a smaller flash before taking the picture. This initial tiny flash will ensure your subject’s pupils contract. By doing this, less light is allowed into the subject’s eyes and less light is reflected back eliminating the red-eye effect. One more problem with flash photography is glare. This occurs when the camera flash is bounced back off reflective surfaces such as metal, glass or mirrors. Try to look for these reflective surfaces and avoid activating the flash directly at them. Almost all digital cameras allow the photographer to control the flash. They can disable the flash as they see fit; either when flash photography is not allowed or to create specific effects. They can also enable it and leave it on all the time even when the camera detects sufficient light.

The flash can also be used during daylight in outdoor photography. Sometimes, the sun will cast shadows on your subject and make them look darker than the surrounding areas. One way to address this problem is to place your subject in the shade. This will give you a better color definition and will also ensure the subject remains shadow-free. Another way of combating shadows cast by the sun is to use your flash. This is known as fill-flash. When using your flash in sunlight, what you are illuminating the shadowy areas which were not otherwise discernible. Fill-flash mode is only useful if your subject is within six feet. Anything greater and you will have to resort to full power mode on your flash.

By using an external or secondary flash, you can adjust your lighting to create some special effects. Just as the source of light controls the exposure, the direction of the light can affect the creation of highlights or shadows. These external flashes can usually be attached to your camera by means of a ‘shoe’. This can be either a ‘hot shoe’ or ‘cold shoe’. By using a hot shoe, you can connect your external flash to the camera by means of a sync cord. You can then move the flash to whichever location you wish to alter the directionality of the light. The hot shoe allows the camera to communicate with the flash so that the correct intensity of light is chosen based on the information received from the camera. A cold shoe, on the other hand, is only a plastic holder with no contacts from which communication can take place. It only acts as a physical attachment. By using an external flash, you can control the different flash modes.

  • The TTL feature lets the camera decide the intensity of light to get the best exposure. This is achieved by calculating the focal length of the lens. Usually, this is possible if the camera and flash can talk to each other; generally similarly branded cameras and flashes will be able to do this.
  • The Strobe setting will allow the flash to fire multiple times within one exposure thus creating certain special effects.
  • Manual setting can be used to set the power of the flash to either full or half power

Automatic can be used to let the flash determine the exposure by itself. This setting is used when the camera and flash cannot talk to each other directly or are of a different brands.

When working with light, it is good for you to be familiar with the two primary types involved in photography: hard and soft light. Hard light is created from a bright source of light. Usually, there will only be one single source. Hard light creates distinct shadows and highlights giving a high contrast photo. Soft light yields photographs that are far more evenly exposed. Shadows and highlights are more subtle and there is an overall diffused effect to the light. When you need distinct colors and shadows, you would use a hard light source. You can make a hard light source into a soft light source in a number of ways. One is to diffuse the light by covering the light source with a thin fabric such as paper or tissue. Another way is to bounce it off of another surface such as a wall or ceiling. This type of bouncing is not very effective outdoors and you should keep your reflecting material at a distance of about 6 feet in order for it to remain effective. The color of the reflector is also important as this color is also reflected onto the subject. This is why whit is the most preferred reflector color. Some professionals also use black so that they can darken shadows by absorbing the light. Additionally, shiny surfaces are used to harden the light.

As stated earlier, the other key factor of exposure is the direction of the light. The direction can also influence the results of your photographs. By using an external flash, it is possible to move your light source along with your subject. Commonly, the light is kept facing the subject. Known as front-lighting, this is the best approach to accentuate the details of the subject. Front lighting can also create some harsh effects. Red-eye, background shadows and inaccurate colors are all traits of front lighting. To combat some of the issues, you can try using red-eye reduction and fill flash. To reduce the harshness, you can diffuse the light. The opposite effect, back-lighting, can also produce some dramatic photographs. Again, however, this sort of lighting can negatively affect the photographs. If the lighting is too bright, then the subject may only be seen as a silhouette. To address these issues, reducing the intensity of the light source and using fill flash can help. An alternative to both these situations is to use angular lighting.

Light can also be directed from the side, over or under the subject. Side lighting allows for a greater range of effects by angle variance. It is a good approach to use if you want to convey a sense of depth and texture to a photograph.

Experiment to find what works for you. You may be able to control some aspects of the lighting better than others. Practice all the techniques discussed in the article so that you know how each one is done and what equipment you need to do it. If you’re looking for lighting tips to improve your photo business you should also consider this down-loadable guide on establishing a profitable photography pusiness.

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