Light Challenge Tips

Lighting can create drama, mood and emotion in your photographs. Here are some tips to help you use light to convey your message.

“Light is the most important thing in photography...It can change the emotion in a picture.”


Drama Comes with Direction

Light is not just light—it’s shadow as well. Front light can flatten out your subject. Moving the light to the side brings out the texture of things, adding detail to the surface of what you are shooting. Putting the subject in front of the light creates backlighting with dramatic silhouettes and halos, but hides details. A flashlight under the face creates dramatic and spooky shadows. You can practice by moving a light around your subject or by repositioning your camera and subject so the light strikes them from different angles.

Photograph by @Sabinah

Hard Light vs. Soft Light

Hard light can make a statement. Force you to look. Be unapologetic. It is focused with crisp, deep shadows, like on a sunny day. Soft light is more forgiving. With soft light the difference between light and shadow is blurred, the shadows blend more gently into the light. You can see this if you stand in the shadow of a building.

If the shadows on your subject are too dark, you can fill them in by bouncing in more light with a reflective surface. No need to get fancy. Use a white piece of paper or poster board to bounce light into the shadow. Professional photographers use a diffuser to soften light. You can get almost the same effect by shooting on a cloudy day, or move your subject into the shade instead of the sun.

Soft light photography by @Norma

Cool Light vs. Warm Light

Lighting can create emotion.

If you want to create a cool, direct portrait, try shooting in the middle of the day. Even though light may “look” white, midday light tends to be blue.

If you want to create a gentle, glowing portrait, use warm light, like the light at golden light of magic hour, right before sunset. The light from the setting sun can create accessibility and empathy with your subject.

Warm light photograph by @MiaBella


To create contrast between your subject and the background, place the light close to your subject, and the subject away from the background. This will cause the light to “fall off” and the background to appear dark. Put the subject closer to the background and it will catch more light. Try different shots, moving the subject, background, and light source.

Photograph by @Cassidy

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