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This post was most recently updated on November 7th, 2021

If you’re new to the world of photography and are just starting out, you might have been repeatedly told that lighting is key.

In fact, the word photography actually comes from the Greek meaning “writing with light”. So it is no wonder that getting the lighting right is so essential to this art! 

It is very important to learn how light interacts with the subject you are photographing, in order for you to adjust and adapt to get the desired result.

You need to know all about how to position light, and about different types of lighting, and how they affect the final photograph. 

Basically…it’s a lot. But don’t worry, it takes years of experience to master lighting in photography, and you can still take amazing photos in the meantime by knowing the most important basics.

Learning to use lighting correctly also involves a lot of experimentation, and a lot of trial and error, so don’t be afraid to try out different things! 

But in order to help you with the most vital basics, here is a beginner’s guide with everything you need to know on how to set up photography lighting. 

How To Position Lighting For Photography

The positioning of the light is one of the biggest things that affects the end result of a photograph, so it is one of the most important things to get right. Where the light is coming from, in relation to the subject you are photographing, determines the final image.

How To Set Up Photography Lighting - Beginners Guide

There are quite a few different ways in which you can position the light for photography, here are the three main ones you need to master as a beginner:

Front Lighting

This is when you position the light so that it is directly in front of the subject or object that you are photographing. This lighting position causes the shadows to fall behind the object, so there are no shadows hiding away any details, making this the best setup for detailed and vivid photographs. 

It is also the easiest type of light position, as it is the easiest to adjust and shoot. The only downside is that it can sometimes look very flat and boring, as it is very simplistic. 

Side Lighting

Side lighting is when you position the source of light slightly to the side, or at an angle.

This doesn’t necessarily have to be at a perfect 90 degree angle, it can be adjusted to come from any direction that isn’t the front or back.

With this kind of lighting, you create shadows, which in turn add a lot of depth to the photograph, which can be very visually appealing. 

This type of lighting is also fairly easy to shoot with, as it can be easily adjusted to fit any setup, and you can very easily play with the shadows and test out different angles.

It also helps add a lot of interest and artistry to the final result, so that it isn’t boring. Just play around until you find the most flattering shadows! 

Back Lighting

Back lighting is one of the hardest to master, and one of the most complicated to shoot with, as it is tricky to get right. (Basically, not recommended to beginners, but something to explore so you get to understand how it works).

Back Lighting

This is when you place the source of light behind the subject or object you are photographing. This can make the subject glow, with a sort of halo effect that brings the subject into a soft contrasting focus. 

The problem is that if you get it wrong, you will end up with a silhouette in which the subject is completely dark, with no details visible.

Knowledge of light modifiers and manual mode is needed in order to shoot with this lighting position!

Types Of Lighting In Photography

Not all light is the same, so you have to learn to differentiate between the different types of light, and how they each affect the end result of the photo, in order to get the desired results. 

Here are the main basic types of light you need to know about: 

Soft And Hard Light

Depending on the number of shadows that it creates, a light can be classed as either soft or hard. 

Soft light has a very subtle transition between the light and dark areas, so the shadows are smoother and less dramatic, meaning there is less contrast within the photo.

Soft light is more atmospheric, disguising blemishes and imperfections a lot better.

It usually comes from larger sources of light, with the light shooting out in all directions, so that it spreads out evenly upon the subject.

It’s very easy to work with, and the results are almost always amazing, with a desirable glow and even lighting. This makes soft light perfect for beginners to work with! 

Hard light creates many more shadows, with a harsher transition between the light and dark areas. The shadows are far more dramatic, producing a higher contrast within the image.

It can be quite hard to work with, as it can cause undesirable shadows in a portrait if used incorrectly.

But when used properly, hard light can add drama and artistry to a photograph. It usually comes from smaller light sources that are directed at the subject, so the light hits full-on. 

Natural And Artificial Light

This differentiation is pretty obvious, natural light is light that comes from a natural source such as the sun, or the moon, while artificial light comes from a lightbulb, ring light, or indoor setup.

Natural And Artificial Light

Most photographers prefer shooting in natural light, as it often looks very good, and it’s easy to use because it’s everywhere. However, artificial light offers the photographer far more control over the setup and can be used where natural light wouldn’t otherwise reach.

Neither is better than the other, as it depends on the type of photography, the location, and the desired result. It is best to try and practice with both. 

Color Temperature In Lighting

Another thing you need to learn to control for your photography lighting setup is the color temperature of the light. Because yes, light has different colors, depending on the temperature of the light, and this can directly affect the end result of the photograph. 

Basically, all light sources have a color temperature, measured in degrees Kelvin. Warmer colors have a lower temperature, and cooler colors have a higher temperature.

Natural sunlight is somewhat in the middle within this scale. But for example, when sunlight is diffused and comes through clouds, it is cooler. 

Using warm or cool colors in your light can affect the mood and ambiance of the photo, which is a huge thing to consider depending on the result you have. 

The white balance setting in cameras can control how the temperature of light is captured, so this is something you need to learn to adjust in order to have a good lighting setup.

There is also usually an automatic setting, for beginners that don’t want to get lost within this complicated aspect of light just yet. 

In Conclusion

There is a lot more to know about how to set up photography lighting, but as we said, this is just a simple guide to help out beginners that need to know the basics in order to get started.

Just remember, the most important part of lighting is the positioning, followed by using the right type of light. Then you can get into the world of having the right color temperature, and much much more. But step by step!