Beginner's Guide to Lighting For Your Camera

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Taking pictures is all about the lighting. What kind of light do you have? How much do you need? How do you deal with the sun?

Hard Light

Hard light is direct light from a single source. It casts harsh shadows and creates strong contrast. The sun on a clear day and camera flash would be examples of hard light. Hard light is considered moodier and more dramatic but can be unflattering to subjects.

Soft Light

Soft light is hard light that has been scattered and comes from many directions. Another name for soft light is diffused light. Soft light casts soft or almost no shadows at all. An overcast day would be an example of soft light. Soft light is more flattering to subjects and is often used for portraits.

​Getting Soft Light

You don’t need to do anything to get hard light. All light starts out that way. So, the question becomes how to get soft light. Overcast skies were mentioned above and I’ll talk about two other natural ways to get soft light later in the article, but how do you get artificial soft light?

Use a diffuser disc or panel. This is a large piece of thin material that scatters light passing through it. It is an excellent and cheap way to get soft light.

​Camera Flash

Camera flash can make images lose depth and look unflattering, but used properly, can improve photos. On camera flash can be used effectively for fill flash, but this is difficult. Fill flash is used not to light an image in its entirety, but to fill in areas of shadow. This technique should be used when the subject is in direct sunlight or the light source is behind them. 

​Speedlights

A better option than camera flash is a speedlight. These are purchased separately from the camera but are inexpensive. The amount of light these can produce puts camera flash to shame. These can be attached to your camera or used separately with a wireless trigger (also inexpensive). Using the speedlight separate from the camera allows you to choose the angle of lighting more carefully.

camera with speedlight

Bounce Flash

Using a speedlight also allows for bounce flash. Bounce flash is when a light is aimed at a wall or ceiling instead of the subject. This diffuses the light. Because the light is coming from the surface it was bounced on rather than directly from the camera, the angle of light on the subject looks better and creates softer shadows.

Reflector Disc

Another way to fill light on a subject is a reflector disc. This is the same as a diffuser disc but reflects light instead of scattering it. This works better as a fill light than camera flash because there is more control over the angle the light comes from and the light temperature naturally matches the rest of the scene.

Golden Hour

This is the hour or so of time after sunrise or before sunset. At this time, the light is naturally softer and warmer. The naturally soft light creates a great opportunity for pleasing photographs. The sun is also low in the sky, which makes directional lighting easy. Try going out during golden hour and lighting your photos from the front, back, and side. To learn more, check out What is Golden Hour? (And How to Photograph it!)

​Blue Hour

Similar to golden hour, blue hour is the time just before sunrise and just after sunset. At this time, all sunlight is indirect and evenly diffused making it even softer than the light in golden hour. The light is also cooler and takes on a blue hue. When you’re out to photograph at golden hour, stay a little longer and see what blue hour can do for you. There are apps and websites to tell exactly when golden and blue hour will be in your local area to help plan your shoots.

blue hour river

That’s all! I hope the article was helpful. Let me know what you think in the comments below!

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