Beginners Guide to Photography Lighting


The success of every photograph depends on many factors. Regardless of what genre it belongs to. There are nuances without which it is almost impossible to get a quality picture:

  • aperture;
  • white balance;
  • contrast;
  • the presence of shadows.

Unless, of course, it is a coincidence. Lights for pictures are one of the main components of a good picture because you can't see anything in the frame without it. But it's not enough just to have light. You have to use it according to your idea, situation, and shooting conditions. 

It's safe to say that good lighting is the most important principle in photography. Every photographer should learn as much as possible about it. In this article, we decided to pay special attention to the light. We will tell you what types of photography lights exist. You will also learn how to use each of them to improve the quality and appearance of your images.

Types of Lighting in Photography:

Types of Lighting in Photography

Photography lights is how light falls on an object. When it hits an object or model, it creates highlights and shadows. They affect the contrast and allow you to reproduce the real shape of the object in the photo. Photographers have a total of five types of lighting for camera available:

  • obscuring;
  • drawing;
  • background;
  • backlighting;
  • modeling.

The type of lighting determines:

  • how sharp or blurry the shadows will be;
  • how three-dimensional the subject will appear;
  • how well the fine details in the photograph will be readable. 

Each type of studio photography light is suitable for different purposes. Because it creates an effect for a specific kind of photography. Below we'll take a closer look at each type and explain the methods and current applications.

Drawing light in photography

This is the most basic type of lighting for a camera. Drawing light is like directional light. It creates a base and brings out the volume of the object, its topography, and its surroundings. You can use it to bring out the fullest gradient of light and dark tones. Drawing light can be hard or soft depending on what and how the photographer wants to convey. When creating this light, place the source at a medium distance from the subject. Do not place lights for pictures too close and not too far away. 

Advantages of drawing illumination:

  • versatility;
  • ability to obtain a good gradation of colors in images;
  • high-quality highlighting of volumes, reliefs, and surroundings.

The disadvantage is the difficulty of creating such a source in natural conditions.

Since drawing is the main photography light, you may use it for photography. Its suppleness and malleability allow you to create soft shadows, suitable for:

Filling light

This kind of light lives up to its name: it is as if the light fills the entire space between the subject and the camera. To create this light, you must place the light source straight from the camera to the model. Often photographers use fill light in combination with draw lighting for the camera. It illuminates all the frontal areas that the drawing light does not reach. The photo's contrast directly depends on the strength of the light flux.

Pros are:

  • The ability to control the tonality of the photo;
  • Soft light and shadow transitions;
  • Expressive volumes.

Cons are:

  • Minimal shadowing when used alone.

When you use these photography lights as a standalone, it becomes tonal. The fill light determines only the photo's tone without shadows. In this way, you can convey the character of the image. You can do this solely by adjusting the light output of the frame and the color gamut. In other words, you don't necessarily have to give the main role to contrast. To give a positive character to a photograph, you can use bright and light objects, a powerful light flux. To evoke the opposite emotion in the viewer, you should do the opposite.

In general, you should use a fill studio photography light to soften the contrast from the drawing light. This type of lighting is great for creating portraits. As it makes light and shadow transitions smooth, volumes are more expressive.


This type of lighting is also known as contour lighting. When using it, position the light source behind your subject. Point the light beam toward the camera. As a result, the subject or model appears illuminated from behind, as if surrounded by light. It makes the subject stand out in the background and creates a sense of depth in the frame.

The strengths of backlight for photography:

  • it allows you to move your subject away from the background;
  • it enhances the perception of spatial depth;
  • it effectively highlights the silhouette of the object or model.

As for the drawbacks, there are only two:

  • Contour light is difficult to work with;
  • When using it, you can unwittingly darken the object too much and thus create an unwanted effect.

Many beginner photographers think it's a mistake to shoot in front of a light source. But it's an interesting technique that can give your photograph:

  • vibrancy;
  • novelty;
  • even creativity. 

Contour lights for pictures are difficult to use. Because the subject can be too dark, with a lot of glare. It's best used when the subject or model is less important than the silhouette. Backlighting is great for portraits. Especially if you shoot the model in full-length.


The difference with this type of lighting is that it focuses on the background. Background photography lights creates a soft transition of light behind the model. So she doesn't blend into the background. This type is often used to shoot portraits in the studio. The background light helps to separate the model from the background. It shows the depth of space in the photo. You could say it has the same effect as the backlight but is much softer. The background light is great for taking romantic portraits. You can also use this variety to highlight important background details in a photo.

Pros of this photography light are:

  • No hassle to work with;
  • Gently separates the subject from the background;
  • Displays the depth of space in the frame.

Cons are:

  • Virtually impossible to get when shooting in natural conditions.


You can use this type of lighting for the camera to focus attention on a certain object area.Photographers usually use modeling light as a complementary light. It helps to emphasize highlights and soften the shadow of the main light. The power of the luminous flux of modeling light should be set to less than the main light so as not to overpower it. You can use this type in absolutely any shooting. It all depends on the photographer's idea.

Advantages are:

  • The ability to highlight the necessary detail.

Disadvantages of backlight for photography are:

  • Extremely difficult to create in natural conditions.

What Equipment Do You Need for Photography Lighting?

What Equipment Do You Need for Photography Lighting

It is not enough to have a multifaceted talent to create high-quality images. Like any art, photography requires the use of special tools and devices. Also, don't forget about a full-fledged photo studio. Every photographer faces the question - what studio equipment to choose lights for pictures? Naturally, the shooting always begins with a camera. Still, each photographer has preferences in choosing the equipment for the photo studio. So there is no point in advising in this direction.

A set of equipment for studio photography light should include:

  • Studio light. Lighting equipment for photography can be of the pulsed or constant type. When using a constant source, the clarity of the picture is immediately visible. It is worth choosing when photographing with SLR and compact cameras. Pulsed light sources make shooting comfortable for the model and the photographer. They don't require a lot of energy.
  • Flash units. It is an indispensable piece of studio equipment and a device for any level of photographer. The studio flash helps you take high-quality photos. It provides the necessary contrast even when the main lights for pictures is bright. Without the flash, you can't:
    • create an interesting shadow play;
    • capture a fast-moving scene;
    • take reportage or portrait shots.
  • Reflectors. Photographers use this equipment for the photo studio:
    • to add personality and unusualness to photos;
    • to get specific effects. 

Especially for this purpose, light discs come in different colors - white, black, silver, etc..

  • Softboxes. You can use softboxes as auxiliary equipment for photographic studios to obtain diffused lighting for camera. These devices have compact dimensions and are together with various light sources. Advantages of softboxes:
    1. reducing the contour blur of shadows and relief.
    2. softening of the luminous pattern.
    3. eliminating unwanted glare.
  • Reflectors. Photographers use different flash attachments to:
    • reflect light;
    • directing it at the right angle;
    • creating gradations of light and shadow. 

The presented equipment for the backlight for photography includes the necessary arsenal for various kinds of photography, which will make the photographer's work comfortable.

Some Photography Lighting Tips: 

Some Photography Lighting Tips

Lighting for camera is the foundation of photography, so when shooting portraits, it's important to understand how it works and be able to manipulate it to create the right mood and atmosphere in the frame. 

When light strikes your subject, it creates dark and light areas. The resulting contrast helps to portray the existing shape. The ratio of shadows and highlights can be different, it all depends on the photographer's idea. But in order for the object to be seen by the viewer correctly, it is always necessary to find a balance. For example, when taking pictures of children it is better to have a lot of light and it should be directed straight, otherwise the picture will not be as airy and tender. For dramatic shots, you could use less light, putting most of the frame in shadow. But it's important to pay attention to whether the shape of the object is readable, otherwise the viewer may simply not understand what is depicted in the photo.

But to give you some tricks on approaching subject photography lights when shooting portraits. You'll be able to use it more effectively.

Avoid bad lighting

Good lighting is vital to getting the perfect shots. so poorly lit rooms or ugly artificial light is not your story.

Learning the art of controlling light is the main task of any photographer. The light creates the pattern, and light is part of the composition. If you like the picture, the photographer probably set the light right.

Use side light

Direct lighting "kills" the volume. Camera built-in flashes often do this. Tape them shut with blue duct tape, and never turn them on. Flat, three-dimensional, and ugly. That's how you could describe the direct light from a built-in flash or a flash attached to the camera and pointed at the subject. Use side lights and light from the side-back of the photographer  for pictures. But remember that light can cast shadows. If you don't want deep shadows in your subject, you can soften them with a built-in flash or reflector.

By the way, direct light from a large window is good. Many photographers love soft, enveloping, and almost shadowless light. Try putting your model so that you are between the big window and your subject. And enjoy the beautiful light and shadow pattern.

Use Regime Light

Regime time is half an hour before and after sunrise and an hour before and an hour after sunset. It is divided into "blue" and "golden." The half-hour before sunrise and the hour after sunset are soft and bluish. After morning and an hour before evening comes the golden time - the sun gives a pale golden color. It is suitable for atmospheric and portrait shots as well as landscapes. It is hard to reach by studio photography light.

It is the favorite time of any photographer. After all, getting such beautiful photos at other times of the day is hard. Try putting your model so the sun shines behind your shooter and enjoys the cool results.

Use a removable flash

Many photographers prefer something other than the built-in flash. And even professional models don't have a built-in flash. So they use a removable flash. A camera flash or a ring flash.

The flash is attached to the camera's top and is often used for reportage photography. You need it for shooting events, weddings, and birthdays. That's what it's for. If you do not plan to shoot such events, you probably do not need to buy an on-camera flash.

A ring flash that attaches to your lens and surrounds it. It is used for macro photography.

Use studio light

The best way to study light is with controlled sources. You won't be able to control the sun, but you can control studio photography lights. All you need to do is take a loved one or friend as a model and rent a studio. Professional photo studios have good lighting. And if you still need to be at ease with how to expose the light, studio staff properly will help you with this problem. Often many large studios have a special person who knows the magic of proper lighting.

Don't shoot with mixed light indoors

We've already talked about white balance in photography. Now, each light source has a different color temperature. It's measured in Kelvin.

An incandescent light bulb has a temperature of 3200 Kelvin, the sun at the zenith is 5200 K, and an overcast sky is about 7000 K. The higher the number, the cooler the color. Therefore, you may encounter mixed backlight for photography when shooting indoors:

  • one corner has an incandescent bulb (3200K);
  • another corner has an LED strip (4500K);
  • the light from the window has a temperature of about 6500K.

Accordingly, when you shoot, you will find that one part of your model's face will be yellow and the other blue. But for a novice photographer, this method is complicated. So just turn off all the lights and move closer to the window - shoot with natural light from the window. Unless, of course, it's daytime.

Bottom Line 

Lights for pictures are an essential part of any photographer's work. It can be used to create many different effects. By practicing different combinations of light types, you can learn how to create truly breathtaking photographs. Once you have them, you can put them in your portfolio. You can use our fast and quite clear constructor for creating your own portfolio. As we all know - a good portfolio increases the number of bookings by two to three times. The most important thing is to find the right company that can help you do that. That's our main profile. Do not hesitate to contact us in case of any questions. Our top staff will be happy to help you showcase your work and find more clients.


What can I choose as a drawing light source?

With natural light, the source of the drawing light can be sunlight coming in through a hole that connects the rays into a single stream. For example, you can use a window, door or crack in the crown of a tree as such a "corridor.

How can I learn lighting in photography?

You should begin by studying books and literature on the subject. Look for material on the Internet or consult with professionals in the field.

What is the most flattering lighting for portraits?

Classical lighting is considered the most popular model for portraits. Because the pattern of light and shadows created is the best.l Also, it emphasizes the merits of most people.

How many lights do I need for portrait photography?

We recommend taking at least two or three lights for this kind of shooting. The main source for portraits is a permanent lamp of about 500 watts. 

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