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Discover These Stunning Creative Lighting Techniques That Will Electrify Your Photos

Light is photography..

Without it, photographs would make for some of the dullest looking objects; as pointless an activity, as that of watching a documentary on the beauty of rainbows on a black and white television set!

Many first time photographers struggle with the fundamentals of lighting, I certainly did, as there are so many options and choices available to add illumination to a subject, it’s hard to know where to start and even harder to know what to experiment with.

Light is everywhere, as photographers we need to pay attention to it, study it, and understand how it coats everything, as only then can we master it.

Light is everywhere, as photographers we need to pay attention to it, study it, and understand how it coats everything, as only then can we master it.

Below you’ll find some of the best examples of lighting used creatively. These creative lighting techniques and diagrams are from some of the greatest names in photography, featuring their methods and techniques so that you can try them yourself; or perhaps you’ll find inspiration and go on to construct your own awesome original lighting set ups!

But first..

Natural light is your Best Friend

Natural light is the best source of lighting any photographer will ever get to work with, mostly because for 12 hours of any given day you have a vast abundance of it; and it’s completely free!

Natural light is always best worked between the first few hours of a morning and the last few hours of the evening. This is because the light dims slightly adding a cool or warm natural defuse that clears the air and makes an awesome glow.

Peter Lik is regarded as one of the worlds greatest landscape photographers, you'll see here that this photograph was either taken first thing in the morning or at early sunset, the air is clean and crisp and the glow of the sun casts it's beautiful rays across the landscape.

Peter Lik is regarded as one of the worlds greatest landscape photographers, you’ll see here that this photograph was either taken first thing in the morning or at early sunset, the air is clean and crisp and the glow of the sun casts it’s beautiful rays across the landscape.

Almost all of the best landscape photographs are captured, during these hours of the day.

How You Can Use It

Reflecting It - the natural light is reflected to cast the light on to the opposite side of the subject

Reflecting It – the natural light is reflected to cast the light on to the opposite side of the subject

Bouncing It - here the light has been bounced directly a diffusing shield that casts a brilliant yet even cast upon the subject

Bouncing It – here the light has been bounced directly at a diffusing shield that casts a brilliant yet even cast upon the subject

Diffuse It - Here the light of the sun is naturally diffused by the haze of the evening air casting a rich yet powerful glow over the subject and surrounding back drop

Diffuse It – Here the light of the sun is naturally diffused by the haze of the evening air casting a rich yet powerful glow over the subject and surrounding back drop

These are just a few ways that natural light can be manipulated, you can also blend it with other light sources.

Mix it - Both the sun and an outdoor flash are used here to create a truly stunning image of feminine beauty

Mix it – Both the sun and an outdoor flash are used here to create a truly stunning image of feminine beauty

Fluorescent Lighting is your Enemy, but you know what they say about those!

As a rule, photographers hate using fluorescent light, which is basically light that comes from a domestic light bulb. The light is usually harsh and hard to contain, it’s also very yellow.

But so what! If you want to give your photographs some grit and a moody narrative, then you can’t go too far wrong with fluorescent light sources:

Strong florescent lights emit a very ugly glow, but it the right kind of environment, and the right kind of narrative behind the image, they can make complete a photograph.

Strong florescent lights emit a very ugly glow, but in the right kind of environment, and the right kind of narrative behind the image, they can make a photograph complete.

Simple image of the source and the subject, yet highly effective

Simple image of the source and the subject, yet highly effective

Standard Photographic Lighting Set-Up

A standard set up, with soft boxes, reflectors, beauty dishes and a good source of natural lighting

A standard set up, with soft boxes, reflectors, beauty dishes and a good source of natural lighting

Standard lighting is the tried and tested method. If you want your photographs to look and feel highly professional, then follow the rules and stick to these types of set-ups, but I warn you; Photo editors and agents are not looking for just another photographer that can rig up and copy the set ups of other professional photographs, trust me, they have tons upon tons of these photographers on their books. You have to be creative and you have to be original.

Here the lighting has been set up high above the subjects, and another light directly behind them and one in-front to bring them out of the silhouette

Here the lighting has been set up high above the subjects, and another light directly behind them and one in-front to bring them out of the silhouette

Here the back ground has been lit from a distance behind the subject, there is also a light directly above and reflector positioned just under the camera

Here the back ground has been lit from a distance behind the subject, there is also a light directly above and reflector positioned just under the camera

a diffused spot light is positioned directly in front of the subjects slighting above them and it casts a brilliant glow over each of them

a diffused spot light is positioned directly in front of the subjects slighting above them and it casts a brilliant glow over each of them

The spot light setting on your DSLR in a darkened room with one small source of natural light can create such an image as excellent as this

The spot light setting on your DSLR in a darkened room with one small source of natural light can create such an image as excellent as this

Another way to do this is when the greatest light source of them all, silhouettes your subjects

Another way to do this is when the greatest light source of them all, silhouettes your subjects

Painting with your flash gun is another great way to work with light creatively, here the subjects are stationary making it perfect to set a long shutter speed and to approach them with bursts of light, but don't forget to keep moving otherwise your camera will pick you up in the final image.

Painting with your flash gun is another great way to work with light creatively, here the subjects are stationary making it perfect to set a long shutter speed and to approach them with bursts of light, but don’t forget to keep moving otherwise your camera will pick you up in the final image.

Thomas Demand builds everything from scratch in his photographs, this gives him complete control over his subjects and the lighting that will fall upon them

Thomas Demand builds everything from scratch in his photographs, this gives him complete control over his subjects and the lighting that will fall upon them

Painting With Light

The best way to approach your experimentation is to imagine that light is your paint, it casts over everything and you can control this through knowledge of your camera and also by investing in a clever light meter. All DSLR’s have light meters built in and all are pretty good, however if you want the best that gives you every type of reading under the sun, then here is the one you buy…

Welcome to the best light meter on the planet

Welcome to the best light meter on the planet

Only with such tools and preparation, you’ll generate the best results from your shoot. Have a look at a few of these past posts, they offer tools and inspiration:

Flash Kits
Lighting Techniques
Backlit Photographs

You also dont have to paint with light directly on to subjects, sometimes the light itself can become the subject

You also don’t have to paint with light directly on to subjects, sometimes the light itself can become the subject

So What Are You Waiting For?

Allow yourself to become inspired, try out some of the set ups above, move some things around, introduce different light sources. Then below let’s discuss your favorite set-ups I cant promise I wont steal a few ;) ! but most of all have fun with your experimentation.

Robert Bradley

Robert is a surrealist visual artist, photographer and journalist. Many of his photographs are exhibited throughout the world in private and corporate collections.

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