An Introduction to Photography Lighting

Lighting is an essential element in photography. It is able to bring photographs to life. It can create effects, like stunning shadows or silhouettes, or even be a negative influence through the creation of unwanted glare or reflections.

This guide is quick for beginners to highly crucial aspects of photography lighting. The book is split into three parts. Part 1 discusses soft and hard light; part 2 focuses on artificial and natural light, while part 3 focuses on light intensity and the depth of field.

Part 1: Hard and Soft Light

The first part of this article focuses on one of the fundamental questions: the distinction between shooting with soft and hard light.

Hard light creates well-defined, dark shadows and is likely to be a result of one light source that is typically small or is located in a remote area. In contrast, soft light can produce soft shadows or none in any way. It is generated by various light sources, either by diffusing light with some form of barriers (e.g., diffusers or paper) or reflecting light off various surfaces to ensure that the subject is viewed at different angles. When lighting conditions are natural, the hard light can be produced on sunny days when there is no or little cloud cover and also when the sun is in the sky. This is something that should be avoided, especially for beginners. Shooting in different types of weather conditions, e.g., fog, cloudy days, or even when there is pollution in the air and produces soft light because the sun’s rays reflect or are diffused by particles that are in the air (moisture and pollution, for instance. ).

In general, the size that the source of light is directly proportional to the intensity of the light source, which means that smaller light sources create stronger light. Soft light, however, can be produced by:

Reflectors: The act of reflecting light will transform the reflector into a secondary source of light. Anything is able to be utilized as a reflector, whether indoors or out. They include reflectors made by professionals or even pieces of newspaper.

Diffusers: In natural light conditions, clouds can be excellent instances of diffusers. When lighting is artificial, any semi-transparent substance that diffuses or softens light is a good choice. Lampshades are a fantastic illustration that diffuses light. While shooting light, even a white cloth is a good option.

Both kinds of light have distinct advantages and drawbacks. A light that is hard can be used to create images that have high contrasts and bright highlights that emphasize the shape and texture. It is also used to improve the 3D impact of images and generally to create striking effects. But, it is not easy to manipulate and is generally thought to be inappropriate for most, if not the majority of, situations, particularly when taking photos of people.

Soft light, however, creates light more uniform and more accurately depicts the shapes and colors of your subject. The choice of what kind of light to use is contingent on the style that you want to photograph and the effect you want to achieve; however, soft light is generally the most preferred option and is the most secure option for novice photographers.

Part 2: Artificial vs. Natural Light

Natural light refers to sunshine/daylight, and artificial light is a broad term that covers all kinds of light sources, which include electric light sources, flashes, and the list goes on. I will go over the distinctions between these kinds of lighting sources in the following paragraphs.

Natural light

Natural light is more difficult to control and can vary significantly based on various conditions like the time of day, the temperature, season, geographic place, etc. It is a blessing that it doesn’t require any other equipment than those that you could make use of as a diffuser or reflector and so on. The option of using natural or artificial lighting is more pertinent when it comes to portrait or still life photography than wildlife or landscape photography (where the choice is typically restricted by natural lighting). The factors that affect natural light are:

The weather. For instance, clouds on a day can produce soft light, which is typically preferred for photography, as we mentioned earlier. Contrasting this with sunny light conditions can produce harder, more bright light and shadows that are more distinct. But this is only scratching the surface. Cloud cover is rarely even, which leads to various patterns of light both in the form of reflections on objects as well as within the night sky. Storms and fog can also alter the intensity and the color of light. This could result in photos that range from being entirely inaccessible to stunning images with stunning effects. Through softening distant areas of an image, vapor from the air creates more of a sense of the depth of landscape photography and generally improves perception.

The time of day is when one typically experiences softer lighting conditions at the beginning or end of the morning. This type of light is usually warmer, resulting in images that are less vibrant than sunset when the sun rises high on the horizon. Sunset and sunrise are generally considered to be the best times for photography, especially for portraits, landscapes, and more. This is also known by the name Golden Hour. In addition, during this time of the day, the light conditions can change quickly both in terms of the intensity and color and allows for images that are more diverse, typically within a span of a few minutes. Shadows can also change in form and darkness when the sun sets or rises, getting longer and lighter when the sun goes down and reverses.

Location: Generally speaking, the farther one is located from the equator, the longer it takes for the sun to rise or rise. This is why the lighting conditions that occur during the morning or late evening can last longer in these regions, but they also move faster near the Equator.

Air pollution: Similar to mist, clouds, and the like, pollution functions as a diffuser for sunlight, as the beams of light are scattered by airborne particles.
Artificial Light

The difficulties of shooting with natural light are similar to the challenges encountered when shooting under artificial lighting. It is essential to know the ways in which different light sources influence a subject and the way to create the desired result. Different light sources can create soft or hard lighting when shooting in the studio; however, in this instance, the photographer is in direct control over the aspects like the intensity, distance, hardness, and angle. Additionally, light that is artificial from various sources can produce various heat signatures in color. In particular, the halogen lights have a colder temperature and emit light that is blue than tungsten bulbs because they are hotter, producing lighting with a reddish hue.

One should remember that when using various sources of artificial light, they must have the same heat signature in terms of color. The only exception is when shooting in white and black.

When it comes to controlling light and manipulating it, there are numerous possibilities in photography, regardless of whether you are dealing with natural, artificial soft, rigid, or soft light. It’s all about knowing the effects of images induced by various lighting conditions, establishing the ideal lighting environment and adjusting the camera settings (e.g., your white balance), and then post-processing your photo in software programs like Gimp as well as Photoshop.

Part 3: Light intensities and Depth of Field

In this section, I’ll talk about the importance of light intensities in photography and what novice photographers need to be aware of.

When taking a picture, there is a certain amount of light needed by the camera in order to produce a photograph of the sensor. In addition, the ISO (or the chip’s sensitivity) and aperture settings, as well as the shutter speed, decide the quantity of light needed.

Photography can be taken under a variety of lighting conditions. Photographing landscapes in the sun is generally taking photos with a high level of light. Although many novice photographers think that they are in optimal conditions, shooting with intense light often results in photos with low resolution and high contrast. This is why they should generally be avoided. On the other hand, a cloudy day can produce diffused light with a less intense light that produces weak shadows or none at all. This can also smooth out gradients, increase color accuracy and also preserve the texture. If you shoot in dark conditions with a lot of light (e.g., at night), you will need extreme ISO adjustments (see below) or long shutter speeds.


This is a measure of the sensitivity to light of the camera’s sensor. In the majority of cameras, it will vary between 100-12800, and these numbers indicate the amount of amplification the sensor uses. Lower ISO settings will produce an image that is lesser “noise,” but it will also require more light and, consequently, an extended exposure time. The higher ISO setting makes the camera’s sensor amplify the light, which allows pictures to be captured in dark conditions. However, high ISO settings come with the disadvantage of generating more noise, resulting in a photo that appears “grainy.” Sensor size inside the camera plays a significant part, with bigger sensors creating less noise and thus superior photos. However, the cost of cameras with big sensors is also more expensive.

Shutter speed

While taking a photograph, the shutter behind the sensor opens so that light can enter it. The longer the shutter is open, the more light will be able to pass through. When shooting moving objects, High shutter speeds are needed to limit the amount of motion during the period that the shutter remains open. This allows for 1) to freeze the subject as it is being photographed and) shooting with a handheld camera.

Long shutter speeds can be beneficial during the night when the camera will require more light in order to take the photo. Because of this, photography at night creates more noise, which can be enhanced by adding stabilizers for the camera (such as using tripods).


It’s an aperture that allows light to pass through. The aperture is adjustable through a device called the diaphragm. A smaller aperture lets less light pass through the lens, while the larger aperture permits more light to enter the sensor. The aperture settings are referred to as F/stops. The lower values (such as f/1.0 or f/3.5) represent the largest aperture and allow the most light into the sensor. A value of f/22 can reduce the aperture and permit less light to enter the lens. Every lens comes with a distinct aperture range.

The image’s Depth of Field (DoF) is also determined via the aperture settings. DoF refers to how far between the closest and farthest point that it appears that the photo will be focusing.

Automatic Mode

When the mode is fully automatic, the shutter/aperture combination is chosen by the camera in accordance with its sense of the best setting for the photograph. It can yield decent results, but it’s only approximate and is rarely as good as photos that are manually taken by a skilled photographer. But for beginners using this method, the camera can handle the settings with any level of light, and the only problem is to stabilize the camera when shooting in dim lighting (e.g., using a monopod or tripod).

Controlling the camera

You can choose from the various camera modes based on the kind of image you are aiming for. The most popular include shutter priority, aperture preference, or the whole manual setting (for those who are more skilled photographers).

The aperture settings can be set in the aperture priority mode, for instance, if one wants to capture a particular DoF. This mode will ensure that the proper shutter speed is calculated from the camera. When shooting landscapes, this is typically the mode of choice.

In the shutter priority mode, you can select the duration of exposure. When photographing moving subjects, like in sports photography, selecting the fastest shutter speed is crucial in order for the camera to stop the action. It’s also essential in situations where the camera isn’t stabilized (i.e., hand-held).

The photographer is in complete control over the aperture and shutter settings when in manual mode. This will allow a seasoned photographer who is aware of the impact on these settings to accurately determine how each image is taken.

Simon’s Profile

I’ve been a photographer since 1998. Prior to that, I was involved in commercial photography, capturing products for local studios. I’ve also worked in wedding shoots as well as other kinds of gatherings. I also took photos for various sites, including Bluewyle Border Collies, World Sufi Foundation, and Globalphrase Ltd. Currently, I run Eminent Photo’s [] photography blog.