One of the most important aspects of effective photography is the understanding of and ability to control lighting. Photography lighting techniques are curtail to take our photographs to next level. Be it sunlight, diffuse sunlight, indoor natural, artificial or studio lighting, a photographer’s knowledge of how light affect film (or sensor) , and consequently, the photograph, cannot be understated. We already discussed the quality of light and a typical studio lighting kit equipment earlier. Now, let’s take deeper look into some of the very basic practical photography lighting techniques. These guidelines will help you to avoid the disappointments that difficult lighting can present. Remember, the most important photography lighting technique is to make light work for you!
If you have the choice of shooting either at noon or later in the afternoon, you’ll be much better-off choosing the latter. Later in the afternoon the light is still bright, the direct sunlight is softer, and, for human subjects, easier to pose in. This light creates wonderfully long shadows, which can certainly be incorporated as major component of any type of photograph. On a cloudy day, time-of-day is less relevant, as cloud cover acts as a diffuser of the sunlight. This is far less of a challenge for a photographer, in particular one that chooses to shoot portraits. However, colors may become muted, and contrast lowered, so there are distinct advantages to photographing under direct sunlight.
If you have to do a portrait photograph at midday on a sunny July day, you’ll generally be much better-off if you take your subject into the shade, which will immediately make the subject more comfortable, as well softening the light in a dramatic fashion. If you want to create soft lighting from direct sunlight you can fashion a diffusion tool from a thin curtain stapled to a simple wooden frame, which, when held (by an assistant of some sort) between the sun and the subject, will take that harsh lighting and soften it to the degree that shadows virtually disappear. Similar to placing your subject in the shade, it does, however allow you more versatility in your people photography. Piece of white card can prove invaluable when photographing people, regardless of lighting quality; used to reflect light into the subject’s face, they can provide extremely effective fill-in-light (similar to fill-flash) to soften shadows and simply make the face more alive. Virtually any light-colored surface, in fact, can be used to bounce light back onto a subject.
Without getting too deeply into studio lighting, there are some photography lighting techniques that beginners can utilize easily, simply by using natural light in a thoughtful way. For instance, one of the most popular lighting styles for portraiture is one known as “Rembrandt” lighting, named after the Dutch realist painter renowned for his ability to capture the quality of the light that bathed the sitter in his window-lit studio. Emanating from a high, 45 degree angle, it bathes one side of the face in light, while shadowing the opposite side, though also creating an appealing triangular highlight beneath the eye. This style sculpts the face very effectively and gives it depth, which flat, frontal lighting fails to do. So next time you want to do a portrait, place your subject next to a window and observe how the light strikes their face. You will be amazed at how a simple photographic lighting technique can be so effective!
Another useful, and very simple photographic lighting technique is hatchet, or side-lighting, which can be also created using window light or outdoor direct sunlight. Side-lighting, as its name suggests, emanates from side of the subject, which results in one side being lit, and the other complete shadow, the depth of which is easily controlled by a fill card, as described earlier. This is very dramatic lighting, not necessarily the most flattering for a portrait, yet potentially very effective for people photography as well as still-life and other genres.
Whichever of these photographic lighting techniques you chose to employ, start looking more closely at what it does to your subject, and you will begin to get a feel for what lighting does to a subject, and how it can make an enormous difference the effectiveness of your photographs.