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Lighting Principles, every Photographer must keep in mind.

Lighting is one of the most important aspects of photography, and understanding the principles of lighting can help photographers create stunning images. Here are some key lighting principles that every photographer should keep in mind:

The direction of light

The direction of light can have a big impact on the look and feel of a photograph.

A subject could be illuminated by front, Side or Backlighting and in many cases, a combination of more than one direction.

Front lighting can create a flat, even look, while side lighting can create depth and texture. Backlighting can create a dramatic, silhouette effect.

Role of lighting in Photography

Shot in the evening in Leh, Ladakh, the primary direction of light is from the back which is creating the Golden highlight on the hair. The Face is illuminated because of the existing ambient light.

Role of lighting in Photography

This Old lady in Ladakh is sitting on the rear seat of the SUV, I was traveling in. I took this photograph from the front seat, with the light from the side window creating the "Side Lighting" on the smiling face. The overall Daylight from the front windshield of the vehicle filled in the darker side of the face and hence reduced the contrast.

Role of lighting in Photography

It's not always the Direction of light that needs to be changed. While the light remained at the same spot, I changed my position to entirely change the direction of light. In the photograph above, the light is falling from behind, creating a dramatic effect with Short lighting and shadows toward the camera.

In the Photograph below, I too the photograph from the top and the same lighting was Side lighting from this viewpoint. Since the light is kind of wrapping around the subject, there is comparatively less contrast.

Role of lighting in Photography

Quality of light

The quality of light refers to how harsh or soft the light is. Harsh light can create strong shadows and highlights, while soft light can create a more even, diffused look.

Photographers can modify the quality of light using diffusers or reflectors.

Color temperature

The color temperature of light can affect the mood and feel of a photograph. Warmer colors can create a cozy, inviting look, while cooler colors can create a more clinical or sterile look. Photographers can adjust the color temperature using white balance settings. Color gels on lights and colored filters on lenses were commonly used in the era of film because one had either a daylight or Tungsten balanced film. Today, in Digital times, the color temperature acceptancy of the sensor can be adjusted as per the light falling on it to allow White to be produced as white.

Learn about the Role of lighting in Photography

In this photograph, shot at a Spa, even though a strobe Flashlight was used, the color temperature was set in such a way that it appears that the warm illumination is from the candles themselves. if the colour temperature set on the camera is higher than the colour temperature of the light source, you get warmer tones and in the opposite case, you get colder tones.

Learn about the Role of lighting in Photography

In this advertising shot for Bla Bla cars, I had the light from the low angle of the setting sun coming in straight from the rear glass of the car. I chose to retain the warmth of the light by not adjusting for the white balance. If it was on daylight-balanced film, I would have got the same warmth.


Contrast refers to the difference between light and dark areas in a photograph. High contrast can create a dramatic, moody look, while low contrast can create a softer, more muted look.

Learn about the Role of lighting in Photography

Both Photographs have the light coming from one side. so, the Light is quite directional but the Photograph above has less contrast as compared to the photograph below. Since its a beauty shot, there is a large light that is kind of warping around the face even though it is "Short Lighting". ( Short lighting is the kind of lighting that illuminates the side of the face away from the camera)

In the more dramatic shot of the Model in red, short lighting has been created but with a smaller and relatively harder light source without any fill light coming from the direction of the camera.

Learn about the Role of lighting in Photography


Shadows can be used to add depth and dimension to a photograph. Photographers can play with the placement and intensity of shadows to create a variety of effects.

Learn about the Role of lighting in Photography

Shadows can be both dramatic and subtle. Aparna, the model above was illuminated with a hard light modified by a snoot to create interesting shadows across the deep yellow wall behind.

Coming from a softer light source modified by a Beauty Dish, Diys Singh, the Model was illuminated with Rembrandt style of lighting. Its side lighting with the shadow of the nose blends with the darker side of the face so as to create an inverted triangle under the eye. The shadows here create a less dramatic yet powerful effect that helps highlights the face.

Learn about the Role of lighting in Photography
By keeping these lighting principles in mind, photographers can learn and create images that are visually interesting, well-balanced, and full of depth and texture.
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