Simple Lighting Tips for Digital Photography

Proper lighting is all about balancing your surroundings with your intent. All it takes is a little know-how, ingenuity, and patience to take great pictures with lighting that showcases your subject and enhances the mood.

photography-lightingIndoor lighting

When indoors, it’s key to provide as much natural light as possible. That said, be wary of light streaming through windows as it may fill your photographs with harsh contrasts. Don’t have your subject stand directly in front of a window as it may cause a silhouette.

In low light conditions, disable your flash and take advantage of ambient light for best results as a flash can mute color and cast stark shadows. Use a night scenery mode if your camera has one. Be sure to hold your camera steady since there will be a longer exposure time.

If using artificial indoor lighting, try adjusting your white balance for more natural color. Most cameras have Tungsten (for incandescent bulbs) and Fluorescent settings to correct color since Auto mode doesn’t always get it right.

Outdoor lighting

Outdoors, light is sometimes too much of a good thing. Avoid midday sunlight, as it can cast harsh, unflattering shadows. The best time of day for even, complementary lighting is dusk and dawn.

For low-light conditions, the same rule applies as with indoor shooting: avoid flash and use a tripod to steady the camera to compensate for the longer exposure time.

photography-lighting2If your camera allows for ISO adjustment, set it low–in the 50-100 range–for finer details in low-light conditions. If you don’t have a tripod, set your ISO higher to make your camera more sensitive to light, allowing for shorter shutter speeds. The trade-off is the risk of visual “noise” and grain to your photos, but at least you may get a shot you might have otherwise missed.

Daytime shooting A common question comes up when shooting pictures of people in sunlight. Where do you position the subject relative to the sun for best results?

The best condition outdoors for shooting pictures is an overcast day. Bright sunlight can wash out color. But when the sun is beating down, position your subject with the sun to their side. If they face the sun, they’ll squint, and if it’s at their back, you will have lighting issues, such as silhouetting.

Here are some other daytime shooting pointers:

– The passage of the sun results in a series of dramatic changes in color and shadow. Keep on the move, experimenting with different angles and shots.

– Use fill flash to eliminate harsh facial shadows. Fill flash is a feature included on most cameras, and provides enough flash to fill in areas of a picture that would otherwise be too dark. Another way to soften shadows is by using a sheet of white paper held below the subject’s face, angled up but out of view. This can also compensate for bright backlighting, evening out the front and rear.

– Lens filters can really help with outdoor shooting. A skylight filter will give you richer, bluer sky tones, a polarizing filter reduces reflected light, and a graduated neutral density filter can help on sunny days by allowing less light in.

– For varied light conditions outdoors, use you camera’s specific Beach, Snow, or Sunset modes to compensate for abundant light.

– Shade your lens with your free hand or lens hood to avoid lens glare.

– Never point camera directly at sun. Not only is it bad for your eyes (remember what your mom always said?), but direct sunlight can damage light sensing chips.

Nighttime shooting When the sun sets, your opportunities for taking striking photographs are just beginning. Here are three things to remember when photographing at night:

photography-lighting3– Disable your flash. Instead, draw out details using long exposure (start with about two seconds) and a tripod to avoid blurring. Use your timer to avoid moving the camera when pressing the trigger.

– Set your ISO low (50-100) for finer details at night. Also, without a flash, shutter speed must be slower to gather enough light. Select the Tv (shutter priority) or M (manual) shooting mode to adjust shutter speed.

– Early evening and morning hours provide some light in the sky, allowing faster shutter speeds and reducing the chance of blur. Late evening provides stronger contrasts, requiring longer exposure times. City scenes, though, often produce plenty of light, allowing for faster shutter speeds. Still, for best results use a tripod if possible.

About the Author
Dale Basye, part of the Curiosity Group ( in Portland, Oregon, writes frequently about digital photography. Discover great resources for learning about photo printers.

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