Explore our ultimate guide of lighting tips for photography and do the job right, no matter what kind of light you work with on your shoot.

Proper lighting can be a make or break situation for a photographer, especially when you’re not sure if you’ll be using artificial, natural, or mixed lighting in your environment. In past blog posts, we’ve shared lighting tips for photography that were specific to one type of light source. In this article, for example, we shared tips on artificial lighting in portrait photography. In another, we shared tips on shooting using mixed lighting. Lighting in photography can be a difficult thing to master, which is we wanted to create the ultimate guide to artificial, natural, and mixed lighting, by sharing all the lighting tips for photography that we’ve learned over the years.

When you are shooting for a client, they expect that you will be able to make it work regardless of what light you need to work with. Photographers may not always have the opportunity to shoot at golden hour (as much as we’d all like to). Sometimes, clients who work with our custom contributors at Shutterstock Custom look for images with bright, blue skies. Knowing how to compose, manipulate, and arrange your image to be successful in that daylight can make or break your success on the project.

The Ultimate Guide to Artificial, Natural, and Mixed Lighting — Girls Laughing on Beach
Image by RawPixel.com

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Likewise, on the stock photography side, our customers aren’t just looking for images of perfect lighting. They are looking for dark and moody still life vignettes shot in dimly lit cafes. They are looking for impactful editorial portraits shot with a bright flash in studio. They are also looking for images of stormy days, sunny days, and of wintery white-out days. In stock, variety is key to the success of our contributors.

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In this article, we’re sharing the ultimate lighting tips for photography that you need to master, regardless of whether you are shooting in artificial, natural, or mixed lighting. Read on to become a photography lighting master whether you’re creating content for clients or stock.

Artificial Lighting Tips for Photography

When you are shooting an image using natural light, you have complete control over the image. However, you have a lot of different variables to manipulate in order to create a perfect image. Here are a few key lighting tips for photography using artificial lighting in studios.

The Ultimate Guide to Artificial, Natural, and Mixed Lighting — Girl Gaming
Image by Vladimir Sukhachev

Artificial Lighting Tip #1: Use a dimmer to control your light

If you’re shooting in a small space such as a home studio, light has the opportunity to bounce to a lot of places. Whether you make a dimmer or buy lights that have dimmers in them, a dimmer can make a difference on an artificial light photoshoot when shooting in ambient light. If every light you use is dimmable, you’ll be able to adjust the light to the perfect brightness for the scene you want to photograph. For an awesome video tutorial on lighting small spaces, click here..

Artificial Lighting Tip #2: Consider the size of the light

When it comes to artificial lighting tips for photography, the size of your light source will have a massive impact on your image. Larger light sources provide smaller, softer shadows. On the flip side, smaller light sources provide more dramatic and hard shadows. Often times you may combine an LED panel with a softbox to create softer shadows when shooting still life such as top-down food images, where you may not want long shadows in your images.

The Ultimate Guide to Artificial, Natural, and Mixed Lighting — Girl in Pink Studio
Image by LightField Studios

Artificial Lighting Tip #3: Use a modifier

To create a more natural look when shooting with artificial lighting, add a modifier to adjust your artificial light source. A modifier can be anything (such as a bedsheet) that diffuses a light source. If the modifier is made from a translucent white material, the light from the flash will diffuse and pass through the material and onto your subject. As this happens, the material becomes a new, larger light source. The larger the modifier, the larger your light source becomes. Other examples of light modifiers include umbrellas, softboxes, barndoors, and using gels.

Artificial Lighting Tip #4: Consider how close your light is to your subject

The proximity of the light source to the subject you are shooting is pivotal to the success of the image. The closer the light source is to your subject, the larger and harder the shadows will be. Conversely, the further away it is, the smaller and softer the shadows in your image will be. So if you are trying to create a more dramatic image, have your lights closer to your subject. If you want a softer, more natural look, consider bringing your light further back.

For more lighting tips for photography with artificial light, check out our YouTube Tutorials Channel.

Natural Lighting Tips for Photography

Shooting with natural light is a preference for many photographers on Shutterstock. There’s something so simply stunning about a visually impactful natural light image, and knowing how to manipulate light without any additional support. Whether it’s a soft shadow during the perfect morning light, or a bright and dramatic urban cityscape during the day, capturing images with natural light is a skill many photographers seek to master. Here are our lighting tips for photography using natural light.

The Ultimate Guide to Artificial, Natural, and Mixed Lighting — Natural Light Interior
Image by Photographee.eu

Natural lighting Tip #1: Bring a reflector

A light bouncer, such as a reflector, will be your best friend in harsh daylight. Be creative if you are shooting on your own. Use clips to clip the reflector to surroundings such as trees or buildings, instead of bringing a heavy stand to hold it. If you don’t have a reflector, consider bringing a white shirt or cloth to bounce some light onto your subject. White foamcore is another reflector that works magic and can be found at your local art shop or value store.

Natural Lighting Tip #2: Position your model towards the light

When shooting in natural light, you want the light to catch the models features by either highlighting them or backlighting them. By positioning your model’s face towards the light, you allow that light to fill that space and create a soft look and feel to your natural light image. Backlighting can create a similar effect if the light isn’t as soft (ie: if you are shooting in bright daylight). To backlight, place the light behind the model to cast a stunning glow on the model’s features.

The Ultimate Guide to Artificial, Natural, and Mixed Lighting — Couple on the Beach
Image by mavo

Natural Lighting Tip #3: Always have your lens hood on when outdoors

A hood can be a lifesaver when you are shooting outdoors using natural lighting. A lens hood will help block out unwanted sun rays from entering your image, and minimize any unwanted distractions when lighting your frame. In this article on shooting in harsh daylight, photographer Kostina says “If you don’t have one, make your own out of cardboard or plastic. And if you’re really in a pinch, you can also cup your hand around your lens for a similar effect.”

The Ultimate Guide to Artificial, Natural, and Mixed Lighting — Father's Day Three Generations
Image by Monkey Business Images

Natural Lighting Tip #4: Shoot in RAW

We always recommend our photographers shoot in RAW settings whenever possible. Why? Because it allows you the most creative flexibility to adjust the image in post-production. When you shoot in natural light, it’s really easy to accidentally expose for shadows and overexpose your image. That causes you to lose information in your image. A RAW file allows you the most flexibility for recovering detail in an image.

For more lighting tips for photography with natural light, click here.

Mixed Lighting Tips for Photography

For photographers, shooting in mixed light is the ultimate challenge.

We’ve all been there. You arrive on location to shoot an interior, and there’s bright sunlight shining through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Combine that with overhead artificial lighting, and it can be a nightmare. Here are 5 tips to master when it comes to mixed lighting situations.

The Ultimate Guide to Artificial, Natural, and Mixed Lighting — Female Athlete in Studio
Image by Jacob Lund

Mixed Lighting Tip #1: Scope the location before you shoot

Scouting is extremely important when you are shooting an interior with mixed lighting. Determine how many light sources are in a location, and where they’re located. Each type of light has a different color temperature, so look for windows and overhead light and make a note of what will work best for the type of shoot you are photographing.

If there’s a light source that dominates the rest, consider using that color temperature as a starting point, unless you have the ability to remove it. Take sample shots to really understand what a camera does to manipulate the light in the location, and make notes for additional light sources that may need to be brought on location.

Mixed Lighting Tip #2: Manually Set Your Color Temperature

Instead of selecting an automatic color temperature on your camera’s settings, consider learning how to manually set your color temperature to match the lighting on set. A gray card can help you analyze the lighting conditions in your shoot location, assisting you in avoiding mixed lighting mistakes. While some rooms may be more on the cool side, others may be warmer and require you to change on location.

The Ultimate Guide to Artificial, Natural, and Mixed Lighting — Camping at Night
Image by solarseven

Mixed Lighting Tip #3: Use filters to assist in studio lighting

If you’re using flash in a studio you may need to add additional light and color to the situation. Use filters or gels to correct the studio light and match whatever ambient light is already present.

Mixed Lighting Tip #4: Fill shadows with light

Shooting in midday can result in harsh shadows when you’re working with mixed lighting. You can use a fill source, such as a reflector, to soften or eliminate shadows so you can create a more flattering photograph. If you have a professional reflector and assistant to help (or C-stand), great! If not, something as simple as a white piece of paper can help. You want something that will make that shadow brighter and less stark against the highlighted portion from the light source.

The Ultimate Guide to Artificial, Natural, and Mixed Lighting — Beet Salad Top Down
Image by 5PH

For more lighting tips for photography with mixed lighting, check out this article.

We hope these tips help you on your next photo shoot, whether you are shooting with artificial, natural, or mixed lighting. Not a contributor yet? Click here to sign up and get started. We can’t wait to see your images.

Top image by Halfpoint

For more tips on lighting, check out these articles: