Photography Lighting Techniques

Light is as complex as anything else in nature. As a photographer, it can be frustrating when lighting conditions have a negative impact on your images, casting unpleasant shadows or overexposing your subject. Below, we've shared a few practical techniques for achieving the best possible lighting in your photography work.


Need images for your project? Shutterstock’s impressive collection of more than 70 million images can help! See what our library has to offer.


Harness the Sun
This might seem obvious, but there are smarter ways to utilize the sun for your photos than just standing outside. Sunlight can impart a wide range of properties on your images, from harsh brightness to soft blueness. Depending on the weather, time of day, and positioning of the sun relative to your subject, you can get a lot of mileage out of all-natural lighting. Add a simple reflector to your arsenal, and you can eliminate those messy shadows while focusing the light on your scene. 

Consider the Color
Most aspiring photographers know that light can have different color properties, even when it seems white to the naked eye. However, today's cameras capture a vast amount of data, so your images may have a colored tint, even if you don't see it when taking the shot. This "color temperature" can be harnessed to inject more personality into your work.  

For example, sunlight at dawn and dusk generally has a warmer tone, while midday shade can have a bluish hue. Plus, if you have light reflecting off colorful surfaces, this will also influence the color temperature. When you know what temperature you're going for, you can utilize the camera's white-balance settings to minimize or accentuate the coloration. 

Adapt to Location
Working in a studio definitely has its perks. You have way more control over the lighting, and you can keep that lighting consistent throughout a photoshoot. However, it's crucial that you learn how to handle shooting on location. Every outdoor shoot has unique lighting challenges, so you'll need to bring equipment that can tackle a variety of situations. 

Ideally, you can achieve the right lighting with simple reflectors and sunshine, but if that doesn't work, you may need to turn on additional light sources. These may include strobes, spots, and/or tungsten lights, depending on your preference. They should have enough power to last an entire shoot, or you should also bring an external power source (i.e. a generator).  

Broader Light is Softer Light
If light is focused directly on your scene, it will be much harsher than if the light is at an angle or hitting your subject from multiple directions. Generally, a broad light source will be more natural, have fewer shadows, and soften any sharp angles or textures. When you place a light source close to your subject, it becomes bigger within the context of the scene. Conversely, moving the light farther away will also make it harder and more narrow.

Monitor Your Exposure
We recommend consulting an exposure histogram when taking detailed photos, especially when they involve close-ups or reflective objects (i.e. jewelry). This valuable tool will help to retain details and monitor highlights, while also making sure that they don't flare up. As a general rule of thumb, you can slowly increase the background lights until your histogram is around 255. Any higher than that, and flare will start taking over. 

Front Lighting and Side Lighting
Finally, remember that direct lighting will reduce texture, while lighting from an angle (i.e. above, below, or the side) will accentuate it. If you're trying to reduce unattractive details, you may want to keep your light source and camera more aligned. Alternatively, a high-resolution nature shot may benefit from side lighting, so that those pretty textural details are brought out even further.

  • Was this article helpful?

Can’t find what you’re looking for?