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8 Photography Lighting Basics & Tips for a Digital Camera

Learn eight photography lighting basics and tips from commercial photographer Dan Bracaglia in this video from Howcast.


If you're new to digital photography, you probably have a lot of questions about lighting, and it's a really great place to start because most great photos are made up of great light.

So in first starting out, a really good thing to keep in mind is to look for single light sources to light your subjects. I think one of the best light sources, and one of the simplest, is simply window light.

So if you imagine you have a window here. Pardon my drawings. You have the light coming in. You use that as a light source as you would any other light source. So maybe your subject is over here, and you have them face various ways towards the light source to get the light to fall on their face the way you want it. Obviously you're standing over near your camera, and you have a cool hat on, and you shoot their photograph.

Once you get comfortable with that, you can move into a little bit more advanced stuff like using multiple light sources or using continuous light, or even using what's called strobes or flashes. Flashes like this are great on top of the camera but they can also be used off the camera as a light source.

When using a flash like this, let's say you have it mounted on top of your camera, which is another way to light. The worst way you can use a flash like this, is just like that. Obviously imagine there is a lens on the camera, because this will just basically fire straight out and blind your subject.

The idea with good lighting technique is to diffuse the light so it's soft and really gives a glow to your subject and doesn't wash them out. So if I were shooting your subject with this, what I would simple do is take the the flash, and turn it upwards, and bounce it off the ceiling, and back down to give it a more sort of natural look.

Now obviously this technique is not going to work in places where you don't have a ceiling or its a very high ceiling because the lights going to get lost and it's not going to come back down.

But lets say you're in a normal room, white ceilings. So your have your subject standing right here, and you're over here, and let's say it's night time,there is no window light to be shot. You have a ceiling right here. So, they're standing here. What you do is you point your flash up this way, bounce it, and have it fall right back down.

As it moves outwards, it expands, so as it comes out it's going fall a lot more wide then the narrow beam it went up with. However you got to take in to account that when you're bouncing it up and down, you're doubling the distance that the light is going to travel, and you're also going to lose some light that's going to get absorb into the ceiling. To combat that, you need to increase the output of the flash.

So just keep that into account. Especially if you're using your flash on automatic mode. You're going to have to play with it a little bit to get it just right.

Other ways to light once you get a little bit more advance and you want to turn on a second light. And my personal favorite of light ways to light is to use two of these guys; umbrellas.

These are great because similar in the idea of bouncing off the ceiling, these diffuse the light. So you have your light source, let's say it's this flash, behind and firing through. This is going to put out a really wide stream of light and a really soft stream of light.

So you'll have all the subjects standing in the middle. I'll take two of these umbrellas with the flashes behind them, and obviously you need some way to trigger the flashes remotely from your camera. There's a lot of options to do that; whether it be a sync cable, wireless flash triggers, so on and so forth.

I'll take a flash stand, which is essentially a tripod but skinnier and made to hold the flash, and I'll put the flash on it like this, point it straight over and on my umbrella coming through, and set up kind of like that.

I'll do the same thing on the other side with the umbrella. Obviously, ignore my poor drawing skills, and then you have the subjects stand in the middle. Obviously the photographer is going to be over here with the camera.

What this does is it creates just a very soft light that flow at both sides of the face. There's no harsh shadows, and it's a very flattering light. It's a really simply light, and it's really effective.

Once you kind of get that down, you can get even more advanced. You can throw a third light in. You can do mixed lighting. Another way I like to shoot is window light from one side, a controlled flash from the other side with an umbrella, and those are also great ways to light.

Really the possibilities are endless. This is my favorite way particularly, but you can use the light and you can rearrange the lights and re-position them to give harsh shadows to kind of give the effect you're going for.

So if you're trying to make someone look ominous, or mysterious, or sketchy, you can move the lights around; move them to the back to give a harsh shadow somewhere. You can also do that using one light to just give half the face, kind of like Two Face from Batman, to give half the face kind of a glow and the other half, kind of shadowed out.

The best way to get started in this whole incredible world of lighting, which is really highly recommend, is to start with the window, and take it from there.

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