Photography lighting is one of the first things to look at when taking a picture. The word “photography” comes from two Greek words meaning “light” and “painting”—i.e., “painting with light”. It’s about capturing the light as it falls on your subject. Without light, there’s no picture. If the lighting isn’t good, the picture isn’t either.
The quality of photography lighting has a big impact on how interesting and compelling your photograph is. For example, the midday sun shines straight down and can create harsh and unflattering shadows on a face. If that’s the effect you’re looking for, then great, but most of the time, it’s probably not.
When was the last time you had a passport or driver’s license picture taken that you actually liked? Okay, maybe you like yours, but for most people, it’s usually not the most flattering photo.
The lighting in those photos is straight on and flat. It’s lit that way on purpose, so the authorities can identify you more easily, without having their minds compensate for shadows and other artifacts that might cast any doubts. This is one of those times you actually want your photo to be flat and uninteresting but look exactly like you.
Sometimes the right amount of soft shadow on a face can be just as important as the light shining on it. Shadows can add interest and drama to a subject or a scene, and their placement within the photo can make a big difference in the way we feel about an image.
The direction of the photography lighting dictates where the shadows fall. The light coming from directly overhead can accentuate every wrinkle on a face, whereas light coming from the side or slightly below may lessen them.
The lighting at sunrise or sunset can create softer shadows because the sun on the horizon is a little farther away, and often shines through a layer of clouds or (unfortunately) pollution, so the resulting light is softer than at midday.
The color of the light is also important. The warm light at sunrise and sunset can make a photo more dramatic and compelling, and bring out better skin tones. Before you shoot, notice the lighting. If it’s harsh, move into the shade. If you can wait until later in the day when it softens, all the better. Walk around your subject to see if another angle might work better with the lighting, and move the subject if you have to.