Photography School: Lighting Basics

Photographers are constantly working with light to produce quality photographs. The color, direction, quantity, and quality of light determine how a subject appears in the picture. In a studio, these four effects can be precisely controlled, but in daylight they are affected by time of day, season, and latitude. One of the most important and most basic things you'll learn in photography school is how to work with light.

Existing light is used in reference to any form light that you are working with that is not intentionally provided by the photographer, and incorporates daylight, indoor lights, fluorescent lights, night time light, moonlight, etc. Understanding camera angles and timing are required in being able to work with existing light and understanding when additional light is needed. Although all light sources can be placed under the heading, existing light, there are a few specifics worth mentioning.

Fluorescent light is a common, artificial light source. It emits blue and green light and is deficient in red light. While in person the subject may look great, they will often appear unnatural in color photograph. Fluorescent light usually requires tweaking in order to obtain the right color scheme and textures desired.

Daylight has varying forms. In the summertime on clear, bright days daylight is considered "hard" light because of its intensity. Hard light enhances bright colors, plays down already pale colors, and can often minimize textures in a photograph. Daylight can be diffused by elements like pollution, haze, and mist to what is known as "soft" light. Directionless, diffused light (the kind on cloudy, grey days) is known as "flat" light. Surprisingly, weak and directionless sunlight creates vibrant, well-saturated color when the proper angles for shooting are employed. In photography school there are usually specific photography programs that aim to provide students with in depth knowledge of how all these components work in a photo shoot.

In addition to the many types of light, are the different camera angles. In photography school you learn about frontlighting, side lighting, and back lighting (along with other more specified variations of these). Frontlighting is perhaps one of the most basic techniques, and likely something you learned the first time that you took a picture. This is when the subject is lit from the front; i.e. the light source is coming from behind the photographer, and provides for great color details but minimal texture.

Backlighting is when the subject is lit from the back and is great for silhouettes. Side lighting, much as it sounds, means that the light source is coming from a side angle to the subject. This is a great way to provide texture in a photograph- especially black and white ones. Side lighting helps to illuminate every curve and crevice of the subject, resulting in textured shadows. It is not uncommon to have entire classes, and in some cases whole courses in photography school, dedicated to understanding lighting types and angles. Regardless, it is good to acquaint yourself with the lighting basics even before you begin photography school.