Lighting Masterclass Part 1: Understand Lighting for Photography

Let’s unpack it together in this photography tutorial.

Understand lighting for photography with this video tutorial

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Lighting Masterclass for Photography

Learn how light affects photography so that you can take better photos

The goal of this masterclass is to better understand lighting in photography and how it is used to create beautiful photos.

If you are starting out in your photography journey, usually the first things taught are things like composition and camera settings. 

You might find that lighting is often disregarded or reduced to a few basic ideas when first learning photography. This leads to a misunderstanding of just how significant light is to photography!

In this in-depth video tutorial, Teo Crawford takes you on the journey of understanding what light is, how it affects photography, and how you can use it to take better photos.


Understand Lighting for Photography: An In-Depth Guide

From light source, to quality, color, direction and texture there is so much here to learn. And understanding the aspects of light helps you take better and more interesting photographs.

Lets dive into these aspects of light!


Understand Lighting for Photography: Lighting Sources

There are two main categories of light sources: natural light and artificial light. 

Natural light is any light source that naturally occurs in the environment you are shooting in, like the sun or moon for example. Natural light tends to be softer and you don’t have much ability to change what the light is doing since it’s an element of nature.

Artificial light is all the light that is produced by humans. Things like street lights, headlights, or your camera’s flash are examples of artificial light. 

Artificial light has two sub categories: changeable and unchangeable. A phone’s display is an example of changeable light, and a street light is an example of unchangeable. 

Lighting sources for photography natural or artificial


Understand Lighting for Photography: Qualities of Light

There are many qualities light can have and these qualities dictate the use and effect light has on your photograph.

There are 2 main qualities light has to start with and these are Hard and Soft.

One definition to help undewrstand the difference between the two is that they describe the transition from light to shadow. 

Hard light is focused and often very bright. The transition between the light and the shadows is very harsh and defined. Hard lighting has a clear edge between light and shadow

Whereas with soft light, the transition between the light and the shadows is more gradient and much smoother. Soft lighting has a flexible edge between light and shadow, and can vary between soft to no shadows present

Understand lighting for photography the difference between light and shadow


Another key quality of light is the strength of the light.

The strength of the light determines how much difference is visible between light and shadow. 

A stronger light source you see a greater difference between light and shadow. With a weaker light source you have a less noticeable difference between light and shadow.

Strength of light between light and shadow


Other aspects that control this contrast between light and shadow are size and distance.

The size of your light source, and the distance the subject is away form the light source.

The closer the subject is to the light source, the stronger the light will be on the subject, and the bigger the light source, the softer the light will be on the subject.

As a general rule consider this: the closer, the stronger. The bigger, the softer.

These three aspects, Strength, Size, and Distance work together to manage the ratio of light and shadow in your photography. 

Understand lighting for photography the closer the light the stronger the light, and the bigger the light the softer the light

Understand Lighting for Photography:  Direction of Light

The direction of a light source has a large impact on your photograph. An interesting thing about it is it often can be changed. Changing the direction or changing your position in relation to the light source, will change the impact the light has. 

You can change obvious things like where the shadows are when changing the direction of light, but you can significantly impact the mood of a photo as well.

The importance of this comes from how we perceive a picture. For example, you can make a photo feel more dramatic with a sideways directional light, or more powerful with a top light.

You can make a photo feel more candid an authentic by giving it a front facing light. 

These are a few examples to help illustrate this point. But there are so many more to explore and play with when it comes to direction and mood. 

Like this photo, where the lighting is behind the subject creating a soft and shadowy effect:

The direction of the light makes a big impact on your photos

Understand Lighting for Photography: Colour and Texture

2 more aspects of light to consider while shooting are Color and Texture.

Color is used used to have an emotional impact on your photo. 

An example of this is a photograph of a subject being lit by a bright afternoon sunlight. You can highlight the warmth to the the lighting of this photo using warm colours like orange, yellow and some reds. This conveys the warmth of the afternoon sun running through your photo.

If you wanted a photograph to have more of an air of mystery about it you could add green to the light of the photo.

Color and texture play a big role in lighting for photography


Texture is a bit of a special aspect of light, this is often seen as more of an effect that is added to a photo but is is well seen in a photo’s light.

A loose definition of texture in Light would be anything put inbetween the source and the subject that then creatives an effect you can see.

An early morning shot of a sunrise over a field taken through the morning fog is a great example of this in action. The Sun is the light source, and the fog is adding texture to the light.

Another example is light that is reflected off of water. The light passing through the water adds an interesting wavey texture onto the subject.

These photos below all show a lot of the color and texture with lighting:

Color and texture give these three photos similarity


To understand Lighting for photography you need to know these different elements and how they affect photos.

Lighting is a complex element of photography that few photographers take the time to understand. Once you can master the understanding of what light is, you can start to use it better in your photography.

Check out Lighting Masterclass Part 2: How to Use Lighting in Photography here!

Want to improve your photography overall? Read THIS comprehensive guide!


Which of these lighting tips will you use when you take photos THIS WEEK?

Comment below!

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