4 LIGHTING PRINCIPLES I WISH I KNEW WHEN I STARTED PHOTOGRAPHY

When I first started photography, I struggled a lot with lighting. In the beginning, we are often told to shoot our subjects in open shade. If you don’t know how to do this properly, then the results can be disastrous: faces with dark shadows, eyes with no depth, overexposed backgrounds, etc.

To be able to create composites using your photos, you must first know how to take a properly-lit image. If the lighting in your foundation photo is off, your composite will not look right, even with heavy editing. The following are four basic lighting principles I wish I knew in the beginning of my photography career and that I’ve personally had a lot of success with:

LIGHTING PRINCIPLE #1: THE SUBJECT IS THE BRIGHTEST OBJECT IN THE PHOTO.

Unless you are shooting a silhouette, the subject of your photo should always be either the brightest object or equal in brightness to the other objects in the photo.

LIGHTING PRINCIPLE #2: THE PHOTO SHOULD BE FREE OF OVEREXPOSED HIGHLIGHTS.

This means no blown out highlights on your subject or highlights that appear to be unintentional. This can be mitigated by shooting in open shade, using diffusers, and ensuring your subject is between you and the sun. This example below is the difference between on camera flash and no control, compared to soft light and precision highlights.

LIGHTING PRINCIPLE #3: THE PHOTO SHOULD NOT HAVE ANY ERRATIC SHADOWS.

The lighting in your photos should always look intentional and be free of irregular shadows. Unsightly shadows are usually a result of harsh sunlight hitting one’s subject directly.

LIGHTING PRINCIPLE #4: EYES IN PHOTOGRAPHS SHOULD HAVE A CATCHLIGHT.

This is one of the most overlooked principles but probably the most important because it helps achieve the first three principles. If you can see your subject’s eyes in the photo, the eyes should have a highlights in order to create depth and connect the viewer to the subject.

What’s important is that I started with these basic lighting principles and I applied them to my composites. This is simply to show you what you can create when you start with a strong foundation. I’d also like to point out that these lighting principles should be used as guidelines and are not hard and fast rules. Photography is an art, and as such, the principles that govern it are fluid and flexible. The 4 lighting principles can be broken, and many times are broken, but when combined together they generally produce the highest quality photos.