Lighting Techniques

Digital camera lighting techniques

Written by Digicamhelp Editor

The key to taking great photographs is understanding some of the characteristics of natural and artificial light and using light to your advantage.

“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.”    George Eastman, one of the founders of Kodak

Light on lensPhotography literally means “light writing,” or “writing with light.”  The key to taking good photographs is to understand lighting and to use it to your advantage, which is easier said than done.

There are two types of lighting, natural and artificial.

Natural lighting

Natural lighting is also know as “existing light.” It is light from a natural source, from the sun and moon.

Natural light can change dramatically, depending on the time of day or weather conditions. Many photographers believe the best time of day for taking photographs is during “The Golden Hour,” the hour before sunset and after sunrise.

Whenever shooting in bright light, watch for harsh shadows. If there are clouds in the sky, wait until a cloud covers the sun before taking a shot. Shadows will hardly be visible.

If a subject has dark shadows do to strong overhead lighting, or the subject is in the shade, use fill-flash. Just make sure the subject is within the flash range.

Artificial lighting

Light from any source that is not natural light; inside lamps, candles, studio lights, etc. Because of the color of artificial light, you need to adjust the white-balance to match the light. If the time of the day is right, mix artificial and natural light  by letting outside light into the room through windows or doors.


Internal flash – a built-in digital camera flash is convenient and, though not ideal, relatively effective if used within its limited recommended flash range. The flash automatically adjusts according to the distance of a subject.

The overall effectiveness of an built-in flash can be increased when combined with other light sources such as natural light coming through a window or open door. Watch out for red-eye, though.

External flash – an external flash unit offers more versatility than an internal flash. It has more flash power than an built-in flash and the amount of light emitted from the flash can be manually increased or decreased.

External flashes can be attached directly onto a camera that has a built-in hot shot, or can be used off camera wirelessly or with a cable. To reduce harsh shadows caused by the flash sent head onto a subject, many external units tilt upward so the flash can be “bounced” off a ceiling or wall to diffuse the light.

Have no hot shoe on your camera? Try a slave flash.

Related reading: The direction of light | Varying light