10 Photography Lighting Tips for Every Stock Photographer

Here are some of the top 10 photography lighting tips to improve your photography. Understanding light is key to creating dynamic and interesting images. Without light, the photograph would not exist.

When you understand the facts, you can explore new and interesting lighting situations for your subjects. Just watch your photography improve by leaps and bounds.

Lighting From The Front De-Emphasizes Texture

While front lighting de-emphasizes texture, lighting placed to the side, below, or above, emphasizes it. The greater the angle the light it placed towards a subject, the more texture it reveals. (Think of those mean dressing room lights during swimsuit season.)

Tip: To diminish wrinkles in portraiture, place the lighting close to the axis of the camera and avoid sharp angles.

Shadows Create Volume

Volume is how many photographers describe three-dimensionality. This helps your subject avoid looking too “flat”. The sharper, or more narrow the lighting, and the direction you use can cast long, deep shadows.

Tip: Use this type of lighting on product or landscape photography. It is also useful for a dramatic, theatrical portrait.

It’s All About Placement

Another of my photography lighting tips, is bring your subject close to the light for softer light, and further away for harder light. Just like before, the closer a subject is to the lighting, the light falls onto more of the subject – and is therefore broader. If you more the subject away from the light source, the light becomes more narrow.

Tip: When outside, bounce light to give the subject a glow. When inside, move lamps closer to subjects that are further away to balance the light and give less shadows.

Backlight Can Be Used As Diffused Lighting

It is pretty rare to see subjects which are totally backlit in pure silhouette, with no light at all falling from the front. Typically this will suppress the texture and features in the front, like the face or clothing. Because of the lower amount of light in front of the subject, exposure time will need to be adjusted to capture more light in order to avoid pure blacked out silhouettes.

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Tip: Play around with your exposure times using backlight by bracketing until you find a balance that gives the effect without losing all detail in the foreground.

A Broad Light Source Creates Softer Light

When dealing with any type of lighting, whether ambient or studio, always remember that the broader the light source, the softer the light. This photography lighting tips is the narrower the light source, the harder the light. Narrow light will add drama by adding contrast and deepening shadows and highlights, whereas broader light will soften and suppress texture.

Tip: Think of using a large window or filtered sunlight to act as a natural softbox.

Diffusion Scatters Light

Diffusion evens out the light, making it broader (that magic word again) and softer. Using full shade or a solid cloudy day makes shadows all but disappear. Fog is your friend, it is nature’s softbox.

Tip: Uses slightly translucent plastic or fabric over any artificial light source will diffuse it. In a pinch, I have even used tissue over an on-camera flash. If you are outside in bright sun, use a white scrim or create your own solid shade.

Light Falloff Can Create Variation & Relationships

Using light falloff can vary the relationship between the subject and the background. Create pronounced lighting on the subject by moving the lighting closer and allow the background to fall into shadow as the light falls off. This also works directionally. For example, if you place lighting close and to the side of your subject and allow the falloff to spread across the frame.

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Tip: Use this photography lighting tips for headshots and portraits in which you want any unwanted background detail suppressed.

The Further Away The Light, The Dimmer It Becomes

Light dims fast the further away it is from your subject. Basically, light falls off as the square of the distance. If you move the light twice as far from the subject, a quarter of the light will reach them. Keep that is mind when moving your subject or lighting around.

Tip: Use fill flash in harsh lighting conditions to maintain a balanced exposure between the subject and the background.

Light Has Color Even When It Looks “White”

All light has what is called color temperature. So, another photography lighting tips is your digital camera will capture the tone teach temperature gives off even if your eyes do not seem to see it. White balancing will help some, but keep some things in mind. The color of early morning and late afternoon sunlight is warm in tone, and you even have a “golden hour” during sunrise and sunset that casts a strong golden tone on everything.

Shortly after sunset or before sunrise, as well as open shade at midday is often blue. Tungsten light bulbs cast yellow light. Also, any surface that light bounces off of adds its own color.

Tip: Use the white balance settings on your camera to adjust to your lighting condition or a color chart card to set the balance in camera to cut down on a lot of work color correcting in post processing.

Bouncing Light Acts As Diffusion

When you direct a light source at a broad, matte surface — like a wall, bounce card, or matte reflector — it not only reflects the light but also diffuses it by scattering it over a wider area. Bigger is better.

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Tip: If you do not have a reflector, try a mirror or a piece of foil to reflect light back on your subject.