Light for Photographers

Photography Lighting 101: learning the basics

by Michele Seghieri

In this blog post, we’ll be discussing what light is andvarious types of photography lighting. Wanna know how you can use them to your advantage as a photographer? We’ll cover topics such as natural light, artificial light, shadows, reflectors, and more. By the end of this post, you should have a better understanding of how to optimize light in photography and create beautiful images no matter what the lighting conditions are. So let’s get started!

Photography Lighting 101: Studio setup

What is light?

The answer depends on the person to whom we address the question: the physicist, the photographer, the man in the street, the blind man. For each of them, the light is a different thing, and each will give a different answer.


Many things are known about light, but its true nature still escapes us. Thus, more or less, the physicist would define the phenomenon that we call light. The fundamental components of the universe are matter and energy. Matter can be transformed into energy (e.g., nuclear energy), and energy can be transformed into matter (e.g., a particle accelerator). Matter and energy are interchangeable and are probably two aspects of the same thing. Ultimately, therefore, every physical world phenomenon is a form of energy. But what energy really is, we still do not know.

The radiant energy: waves and propagation

Radiant energy is produced by atomic modifications in the physical structure of matter; it starts from its source in all directions and propagates in the form of waves, the characteristics of which are length and frequency. The wavelength is the distance between the ridges of two successive waves; the frequency is the number of waves passing through a given point in a given time: the product of the wavelength for the frequency is the propagation speed.

The radiant energy and its forms

Physicists distinguish many forms of radiant energy, each characterized by a specific wavelength, which on the whole constitute the electromagnetic spectrum, a continuous band of constantly decreasing length but increasing energy: at one end of the spectrum, we find radio waves and alternating technical currents, with lengths of many kilometers, at the other X-rays and cosmic rays, whose wavelengths are so short that they are measured in millionths of a millimeter. One of the forms of radiant energy is light.

The light and its double nature

Light is a very mysterious force. It is radiant energy that propagates with wave motion, but that on impact also has the characteristics of rain of corpuscles. What light really is, therefore, we do not know. The wavelength of light (or visible electromagnetic radiation) ranges from just under 400 nanometers for blue light and just over 700 nanometers for red light; its frequency is of the order of six hundred thousand billion: in other words, if we had enough sensitive instruments, we would find that the intensity of light periodically varies at the rate of about six hundred thousand billion times per second.

The light as radiant energy

Light propagates in a straight line, although a reasonably strong gravitational field can deflect it. Its propagation speed is about three hundred thousand kilometers per second in a vacuum, slightly lower in denser means such as air, water, or glass. The light takes around eight minutes to travel about 150 million kilometers that separate the Earth from the Sun.

The relationship between light and distance

The intensity of the light, its brightness, decreases steadily with distance, which is very important for photographers working in artificial light. This intensity drop follows the inverse-square law, whereby the brightness (luminance) of a flat surface at right angles to a point source of light is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between surface and light source.

In other words, a surface that is two units away from a point light source receives only 1/4 of the illumination that would receive a surface distant one unit from the source; a surface distant three units, 1/9; 4 units, 1/16; 5 units, 1/25 and so on.

For photography lighting is an approximation

However, note that the law of the inverse of squares applies only to point light sources and that the only true point light sources are stars. All the light sources used in photography have a more or less large diameter: they are actually light sources with a small surface, for which the law of the inverse of the squares is only approximately valid. Anyway, we use this law to calculate the guide numbers of flash lamps and electronic flash and the formula that allows for determining the increase in exposure in the case of extremely close light sources.

A useful tip about light setting up light

In practice, if you double the distance between the subject and the lamp, the luminance in the plane of the subject decreases to a slightly lesser extent than one would expect according to the law of the inverse of the squares, especially if the light is parallel or almost parallel, such as that of a projector (or spot).

The colors of the light

Photography lighting 101:The color Temperature

Experienced photographers know this and check the luminance of their lighting schemes with photoelectric light meters and not based on the distance, although, in theory, the two methods should give the same results. What we perceive as white or colorless light, daylight (or the seemingly white light emitted by an incandescent lamp, gas discharge tubes, or a fluorescent lamp) is not a homogeneous medium but a mixture of all wavelengths between approximately 380 and 760 nanometers.

The white light

The fact that rays of different colors mixed in the right proportion produce white or colorless light is another of the particular properties of light. To demonstrate this fact, you can light up a prism with a ray of whit light. You can observe that the prism will break down the white light into its components, revealing the spectrum the colors latent in white light. At this point, physics becomes essential to the photographer, as a notion of this kind, if exploited correctly, allows him to exercise control over digital or film photography.


The light is much more complex than the readings of a light meter, or the observance of the Zone System by Ansel Adams can reveal. Correct exposure is obviously indispensable for a photograph’s technical success, but the obtained image can be very trivial. It is almost always the atmosphere of the lighting (and not the correct exposure) that, in the restitution of the image, gives the subject depth, that is, detaches it from the background, makes it talk, determines its atmosphere, and or makes it alive. In a nutshell, accentuate the three-dimensionality of the subject, going beyond the two dimensions and telling something more profound than a simply beautiful photograph. If this is what he is looking for, the photographer will first have to study the functions, qualities, shapes, sources, and possibilities of the use of light.

What is the best light? Artificial or Natural light?

As a photographer, you know that light is one of the most important elements in photography. The right light can make or break a photo. But what is the best kind of light for photography?

There are two main types of light: natural light and artificial light. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Natural light is, of course, the sunlight that comes from the sun. It is free and readily available, but it can be difficult to control. The light may be too harsh or too soft, and it can change throughout the day as the sun moves across the sky.

Artificial light is any light that you create yourself, using flashlights, lamps, or other lights. It is more expensive than natural light, but it is also easier to control. You can choose the color, intensity, and direction of the light.

Don’t forget to mix natural and artificial light

It is possible to mix both natural and artificial light, but keep in mind that they could have different colors and give weird color halos to your photos. Usually, it’s not appealing and difficult to remove in post-production, but with experience, you can use it to your advantage to give the final touch to your personal style.

Each light source has a different color. We can refer to the light color as color temperature.

What is the Color Temperature?

Color Temperature is a way to measure the light appearance provided by a light source. Its range varies from 1000K to 10000K (Kelvin degrees).

We can tell our cameras how they should read the color temperature by adjusting the White Balance (WB).

Usually, using the auto WB is the best solution, especially if you shoot Raw. It automatically reads the image and determines what is the best WB for that situation. It’s also possible to change it in a file raw processor like Adobe Camera Raw, Lightroom, and Capture One.

How does the White Balance work?

Setting up the white balance to a certain color temperature, let the camera sensor consider that light color as white. So the color temperature will balance the global color of the photo. I rarely intervene on the white balance during the shooting for 2 reasons:

  • In all occasion I try to use light sources with the same color temperature (flashlights and sunlight combined)
  • Shooting raw and retouch my files, let me change the white balance without losing quality

Color Temperature of different light sources

Have you ever taken a picture only to have it come out looking yellow or blue? If so, then you know the importance of white balance. White balance is the process of adjusting the colors in a photograph to appear more natural. Different light sources can cause colors to appear differently, so it’s important to adjust the white balance accordingly. For example, tungsten light tends to make colors appear more orange, while sunlight makes them appear more blue. Flashlights can also affect the white balance, so it’s important to be aware of all the different light sources when taking a picture. By understanding and adjusting for white balance, you can ensure that your photos always look their best.

Creating light means creating shadows too

So, at the end, which is better for photography lighting? Natural light or artificial light?

There’s no answer. It may vary a lot, depending on the photo you want to do, the location, the time of the day, the weather, etc. Sunlight can change all of a sudden, and if you’re not ready to change you need to start over to set the lights.

Shaping the light: artificial light and light modifiers

To help you with the photography light, is always a good idea to bring the right accessories. Reflector, diffusers, and eventually portable light sources like speedlites with remote triggers, could save your life and let you bring a good final result. I personally prefer to do not to spend much money on accessories.

When I shoot outdoor, I do not always pay attention on my equipment. I tend to lose and break everything. Unfortunately this natural inclination is valid with expensive things too!

At the same time, my basic rule is no compromise on the quality. So when I buy a piece of equipment I consider what I need and buy something that let me achieve the results I want.

Every occasion equipment

This is the typical photography lighting equipment I use when I shoot on a sunny day outdoor. Basically, with this equipment, I am able to take my fashion and portrait photos everywhere (outdoor, indoor, and studio).

With portable light equipment, my choice is usually with Godox TT600 and the Godox X2T remote trigger with TTL. Godox TT600 has a built-in receiver perfectly compatible with the Godox X2T at High-Speed Sync (1/8000). This is everything I need.

Creating light means creating shadows too

Natural light is one of the most popular choices for photography, especially outdoors. The sun provides a bright, natural source of light that can be very flattering for photos.

However, direct sunlight can also be harsh and produce unwanted shadows. If you’re shooting outdoors, try to avoid direct sunlight and look for softer light instead.

There are many different types of light, each with its own unique benefits and drawbacks. In photography, the most common types of light are natural light, artificial light, harsh light, soft light, shadows, and dark light.

Harsh light can be tough to work with, but it can also create dramatic and eye-catching results. Shadows create depth and interest in a photo. Dark light can be mysterious and moody, but it can also be difficult to see your subject clearly.

Reflectors are a great way to bounce light back into a photo, giving it a soft, natural look. You can use them to fill in shadows or add brightness to a photo.

Light accessories, such as diffusers and reflectors, can help you control the light in your photography. By using these tools, you can experiment with different looks and find what works best for you.

Share this article:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

my backup choice
follow me
my equip
most popular