Easy Photography Tips - Light Basics

3 minute read

How Light Impacts Your Photos

When it comes to photography, light is absolutely fundamental.  Nothing has a greater impact on how your photograph looks than the type of light hitting your subject.

The topic of light is huge and something I'm constantly learning about.  I've become obsessed with it, looking for the how it lies, from what direction, the colour of it; it's neverending.  My point is, there's vastly more that can be said and learned about light than I could fit into a quick, easy tips blog post.  

So I've tried to distill some basic examples that can make you think about the photos you're taking with your phone or camera, how they're lit and what you might change to improve them.

Natural Light

For these examples, I wanted to choose a clean, consistent background and this is an ideal place in my home where there's a plain white wall and patio doors to the right of the image, letting in lovely natural daylight.  Not the brightest day so there wasn't as much light as there could be, but I still got that familiar soft window light.

Natural light can vary a great deal, depending on whether you're indoors or outdoors, whether the sun's out and what direction it's casting the light and a lot can depend on the location you choose, but it's normally pretty easy to get soft, directional light from a window.  If you want it even over your subject without casting shadows over part of the face, have them face the window and you stand in front of the window to take your photo.

Indoor Artificial Overhead Light

If it's gone dark and you turn on the main light in the room, you're going to get this kind of light.  It's not that attractive, but sometimes it's all you have.  There's no catchlight in the eyes because the light is coming from above, and it's difficult not to get a colour cast because of the type of light from the light bulb.  

A way to avoid the yucky colour from light bulbs is to convert to black and white, but black and white is going to highlight the different tones and shadows in the image, which don't look good either.  If possible, wait until you have some daylight!

On-camera Flash

I'm fairly sure that this is the first photograph I've ever taken with my Fuji's on-camera flash and it may well be the last.  There's something weird going on with the colour (though I've done my best to correct it).  I think there's still some overhead light illumination (hence the shadow under the chin) so the mix of that with the light from the flash is not a good look. 

The light is really flat and harsh, coming straight at her and washing her out.  My advice is to avoid it if possible.  Turn that flash off!

Off-Camera Flash

I appreciate that unless you're taking photography more seriously, you're not going to have off-camera flash equipment that you can set-up and use.  This is just to give you an example of how different off-camera flash can make your photographs look.

For these, I used one light and a partly closed-down reflector umbrella to soften the light.  I moved the flash around for each photo.  

The first had the light coming from the right of the image, which gives a similar result to natural window light.  

The second from straight above my head, so you can see the difference between this and on-camera flash, just by getting the flash slightly away from camera and using some 'nicer' light with the flash and umbrella modifier.  

The third, just for comparison, from the left side of the image.


I hope that you've found this helpful.  Let me know if you have any other photography questions you'd like me to talk about in the future by commenting below.