photography lighting techniques

Here are three quick photography lighting techniques that will help you when you are evaluating your photo's lighting.  They all can be used no matter what photography lighting equipment you are using.

1. the squinting technique

human eyeYour Remarkable Eyesight

Your eyes and our powerful brains do a remarkable job of viewing a scene and seeing both dark shadow and bright highlight areas with great detail. Digital cameras are not quite as good at "seeing" that same range of brightnesses. You need to simulate the lesser abilities of digital photography to overcome your remarkably adaptive eyesight.

A quick way to preview how a photograph will actually look is to squint your eyes as you look at your subject. It sounds a bit unusual, but stay with me here for a second because with a little practice it will work well for you.

Squinting will give you a quick view of the brightness levels of all of the objects in your photo. Generally, bright things are more emphasized than darker things in our scene. Our brains work in such a way that the bright areas are noticed first and are more dominant.

The squinting technique will help you see what may be emphasized by being brighter. One good point for this one, you don't need a camera to practice.


2. it's in the shadows

Photography Lighting Techniques - Rafael Nadal Shado Example

Look at the size and shape of the shadows in the scene in front of you. Notice where the shadows are falling. Paying attention to the shadows will give you an idea on the characteristics of the existing light as it hits your subject.

This technique is appropriate when you have a continuous light source like the sun, the sky, reflected light, light from man made electrical lighting, or some combination of these.

When you look at the characteristics of the shadows to tell what direction the light is coming from, whether it's direct or diffused, and if there is light coming from another source.

This action photo of superstar Rafael Nadal was taken late in the afternoon. Being the lighting geek that I am, I noticed the long shadows from the sun, so I thought it would be fun to include them in my composition. If I had walked around to the other side of the stadium, his shadow would have been blocked by his body.

They best way to master this lighting technique is to spend a little time seeking out interesting lighting conditions. Make it a point to look for interesting lighting, take a variety of photos, and then evaluate your various photos afterwards. If you want to get a little creative and have some fun try a day full of taking Shadow Photos. It's a great way to learn photography lighting techniques.


3. take a peek

Use the camera LCD screen for a quick check as a photography lighting technique


Take-a-quick-glance-at-your-LCD-screen. And I do mean quick. The idea here is not give yourself enough time to look at the details within your photo. You want to get a real quick overall impression of what's light and what's dark.

When I was in photography school, one of professors would use a similar technique when our class would meet for a group critique of our photography. It was one of the most annoying things we ever did, but after a while I caught on on why it was so effective at helping me learn lighting.

He would show us the submitted prints for a very quick time frame, perhaps just 1/4 of a second.  You only get a brief first impression, an overall feeling of what the photo was about. I must admit it was irritating at first, but it really made you evaluate the lighting, the dark and light areas of a photograph, as well as the overall composition.  It's not a bad technique to get used to if you practice it a few times.

Examples of good photography lighting technique

Sometimes the best technique is just showing up. The more often you show up the more likely that you'll be able to photograph a landscape with interesting lighting. The Cliffs of Moher in Ireland is a notorious location known for being often being heavily overcast.

Spectacular lightingHeavenly Lighting - Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

This is often a tough subject to photograph because of the poor lighting conditions that are often in play in Ireland. My wife captured this image on her 3rd trip to this location. What do you think?

In the family portrait below the lighting technique was simple-get my subjects out of the direct sun. The evergreens provided shade from the harsh winter sun and also made for a great background.

Example perfect outdoor photography lightingScout for a good location where the lighting is already good.

Unusual situations, like the snowy environment can sometime wreak havoc on your lighting technique. I really depend on my camera's histogram to make sure my exposure is spot on under such tricky conditions. In this case, the snow did a great job filling up the shadow areas.


resources related to photography lighting techniques

We only did Black and White Photography for the first year at photography school, but you can learn to see photography lighting even better when you are not distracted by any colors in your photo.

Photography Lighting Systems. There are a wide variety of photography lighting systems available for you to buy. Here are some thoughts on the pros and cons of each.

Photography Lighting Equipment.  This photography lighting techniques article covered existing light situations.  If you are interested in exploring 4 categories to consider when looking at adding lighting equipment to purchase read this.

How to Photograph Glass.  Glassware lighting with an LCD flashlight.  Super simple way to get an infinite variety of lighting effects while seeing the results in real time.  Also includes a video showing the set-up used and 3 very different still photos  resulting from the photography lighting techniques used with the flashlight.

Happy Shooting!



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