Some Lighting Tips for Beginners

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One important thing that separates snapshots from creative portraits is learning to work with directional light. Directional light can mean anything from off-camera lighting set-ups to a window with sunlight streaming through it. Below are some examples on how you can make directional light work for you.


Form and texture are basic elements of design. Form relates to how an object exists in the real world and how it occupies space. It is the three dimensional counterpart of shapes. Texture refer to the tactile feeling that can be perceived through how an object looks.

In the photo below, you can see that the main source of light is coming from the upper right side of the frame. This lighting direction creates shadows on the man’s face making it three dimensional. At the same time, the lines and stubble on his face gives us a feeling of texture. This photo would look a lot different if the main source of light was an on-camera flash pointed directly at the subject.

CC Photo by Saad.Akhtar


One of the most basic way of adding mood to a photograph is by using light and shadow. In the photo below, we can see the the main light is coming from above the subject’s face casting deep shadows on the eyes. The light (and shadow) really contributes to the mood of the photo.

CC Photo by preciouskhyatt

We found this great website that can help you visualize how a certain direction of light will affect your subject’s face. It’s called the Light Cage by Photoworkshop, and you can find it here.

Again, you don’t need to have studio lights to make use of lighting direction. With available light, you simply move your subject instead of moving your lights.

Related Reading:
Flash 101: On-Camera Flash
Flash 101: Off-Camera Flash

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