Easy Photography Hack: Read the Light With a Marble

Light is the essence of photography. And being able to capture the light to our benefit is what sets a great photographer apart from the rest. But sometimes finding the precise direction of light can be a little tricky. Professional photographer Frank Donnino shows us how to use a marble to pinpoint the light source:

A simple 25 millimeter black marble is all it takes to help locate the direction of light, particularly in wide-open bright space. Like the reflection on an eye, look for the catch light on the marble. By twisting your wrist around and moving the marble side to side the change in light and shadows will help to localize the source.  Donnino continues,

“Wherever I see the catch light at 2 o’clock or 10 o’clock …that’s the optimum lighting that I want.”


With the 10 and 2 o’clock theory in mind, Donnino also suggests using your thumb knuckle to mimic the ‘nose’ of your subject. This will help in positioning your subject in order to obtain the best lighting possible.

A marble is an effective and low cost tool that can easily be added to any kit. Just remember to find a source that will sell a single marble, otherwise you’ll be left with a full bag of marbles just waiting to be lost.

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  1. Debbie says:

    Im sorry, but not quite sure when you said point towards the camera. Wheres the camera? And do you have the subject face straight on to the camera? Want to try this, I feel the same about finding the direction of light.

  2. Greg Shanz says:

    Me too, but the video wasn’t clear as to were I stand with the camera. Back to light.source? Light on my side?

  3. Hello Debbie! First try finding the light without worrying about your camera. After finding the optimal lighting direction you may set up your camera accordingly. Or, wherever your camera may be, simply pointing the front (where you read the light) of the marble to the direction of the lens will help you find the light in that certain position. Your subject can face the camera or face slightly off to the side, depending on what type of fall of light you want. You can also just mimic what has been done in the video – it is shot in a way that would be similar if you were looking at your hands through your own eyes, or through your own view finder! Hope this helps!

  4. Scott Rosenthal says:

    Very interesting idea. It would be nice to also have the source for the marble(s) to save our hunting around.

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