9 Types of Photography Lighting Styles to Empower Your Photos

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INTRODUCTION
LIGHTS ARE IMPORTANT IN PHOTOGRAPHY

Welcome to a guide on the different types of photography lighting. If you have been swimming in the photographer ocean for a while, you will realize that there is another important factor other than the composition and subject. Yes, I am talking about light.

Most beginners are so focused on the subject, that they forgot lighting also play a huge part in their photos. Sadly, light is not that simple. Apart from the various kinds of lighting equipment, there are also many different studio lighting setups, styles, and techniques.

Which is the purpose of writing this guide – To compile all of these into one single post for your easy reference.

 

CONFESSION
AN HONEST DISCLOSURE

Quick, hide your wallets! I am an affiliate partner of Google, eBay, Adobe, and more. There are affiliate links and advertisements on this page. Whenever you buy things from the evil links that I recommend, I will make a commission.

Nah. These are just things to keep the blog going, and allows me to give more good stuff to you guys - for free. So thank you if you decide to pick up my recommendations!

 

 

NAVIGATION
TABLE OF CONTENTS

Section A
Lighting Styles

Section B
Artificial Light

Closing
Master the Light

 

 

SECTION A
THE VARIOUS TYPES OF LIGHTING STYLES

Understanding light is one more step towards better photos. But don’t worry, photographers are not crazy scientists or mathematicians. We do not need the precise calculation and engineering, but we do need to know how to shape and control light.

There are countless ways to do your lighting setup, and these are only some of the common ones to take note of. Please do not let these restrict you into “I need to comply with the standards”… There are no fixed ways to your lighting style. Adapt and see what works best for you.

 

1) HARD & SOFT LIGHT

Hard and soft light is not really a lighting setup per se, but these are 2 of the most basic “types of light” that you should know.

  • Soft light refers to gentle lighting that is mellow and casts smooth shadows.
  • Hard light refers to an intense light that is harsh and casts very defined shadows.

Well, each has its own character and hard light is not all that bad. Hard light is usually used in creating dramatic shots, while soft light adds that delicate touch. I will let the picture examples do the explanation.

 

 

2) HIGH KEY

High key photography is a style where your background and subject are all well-lit. This style is commonly used in beauty, fashion, and it produces that “glamour look”.

 

3) LOW KEY

Low key photography is the complete opposite of high key, and the overall picture is kept dark. It produces photos that are dark, gloomy, dramatic and/or mysterious.

4) LOOP LIGHTING

This is one of the basics in studio lighting, and very easy to set up. All you need is one light positioned at the side of your subject. Its signature is a small shadow loop cast under the nose of the subject… and thus “loop lighting”.

5) SPLIT LIGHTING

Split lighting is portrayed by that sharp split of bright and dark on the subject. Often done with one single light skewed to the side of the subject, this style is used to create some very dramatic shots.

 

6) BUTTERFLY LIGHTING

Another of the classics in lighting styles, and you are going to need 2 lights for this (or one light plus reflector). The main light will be top-down directly in front of the subject, while the fill light will be at the bottom of the main light. As with how this is being set up, it is also often called “calm shell lighting”.

 

7) REMBRANDT LIGHTING

One of my personal favorites, and it is named the artist Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn who always paints in this kind of style. You are going to need a main light on one side of the subject, and a reflector on the other.

The beauty of Rembrandt lighting is that it produces photos that have depth, but still maintains a natural look without being too harsh. A signature of Rembrandt lighting is the small light triangle cast below the subject’s eye.

 

8) NATURAL LIGHT

Do you like to shoot outdoors? Then natural light is your best friend and worst enemy. Since you can’t turn off the sun at will, the only option is to work with it. Shoot during the golden hour to get those amazing shots, or hide in the shade to minimize the harsh afternoon sun.

 

9) BOKEH BALLS

For those who do not know, bokeh means blur, and bokeh balls are simply those out-of-focus balls of light. This is kind of an acquired taste, and some people are going to argue that it is not an “orthodox” style of lighting. Well, creativity has no boundaries to me. So just go bokeh if you like it and create something awesome.

 

SECTION B
TYPES OF ARTIFICIAL LIGHT

When it comes to the available kinds of lighting for photography, an unknowing beginner will probably only think of “light bulb” and “flash”. Sadly and thankfully, we have many kinds of “light bulbs” to choose from with today’s technology. This section will run through a few of the common ones that you need to know.

THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF ARTIFICIAL LIGHTS

Incandescent Light
Incandescent: The old school filament bulb, very warm in color.
Fluorescent Light
Fluorescent: Usually has a bluish tint, and a regular Joe that you find everywhere – clinics, supermarkets, offices, etc…
Halogen Light
Halogen: Commonly used as headlights for vehicles. Closer to neutral white, but generates quite a lot of heat.
Flash Light
Flash: Portable lights that are commonly used in photography to give that extra boost of light.
LED Light
LED: The newer technology that has been taking the world by storm. Low power consumption, low heat generation, and perfect for almost anything.
Strobe Light
Strobe: The big gun used in studios, and there are some portable ones too. Whips out a lot of light.

 

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?

Just as natural light, each one of the artificial light has a certain trait to it – Color temperature and intensity. As a photographer, you should really know and experiment with each kind of lighting.

Type Light Intensity Color Temperature
Incandescent Soft Warm
Fluorescent Harsh Warm / Cold
Halogen Very Harsh Almost neutral
Flash Very Harsh Almost neutral
LED Soft Warm / Cold
Strobe Very Harsh Almost neutral

 

GUIDE NUMBER

How do we measure how “powerful” a flash, strobe or LED is? One of the most common ways is the guide number (GN), and this formula goes GN = distance X f-number. For example, a flash with GN 40 at ISO 100, will mean that it can properly illuminate a subject at 5 meters, with f/8 and ISO 100 (f/8 X 5 meters = GN 40). In the simpler terms, the higher the guide number, the more powerful the lighting device is.

 

LUMEN & LUX

Apart from the guide number, the other measuring unit that you will find on LED and light bulbs is Lumen and Lux. There is some pretty complex formula behind it, but generally again, the higher the number, the brighter the light bulb is.

 

Infographic - Different Types of Studio Lighting Setup

 

CLOSING
MASTERING THE LIGHT

Here comes the end of the guide, and two last pieces of advice. It will take time to open your inner chakra and see the light in terms of photography. This is not going to be easy for some of you guys, but keep on testing out different lighting styles. You will eventually become better, and develop something that is called “your unique photo trait”.

Secondly, learn to embrace the dark side. While lighting styles may be all about lights, shadows are also a part of photography. Without shadows, everything is going to look unnatural.

With these, I shall sign off, and good luck with your photography journey!

 

BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

Want to learn more about flash photography? Here are 3 books that might interest you. I recommend The Flash Book by Scott KelbyGreat Photography with Just One Light by Tilo Gockel, and Creative Flash Photography also by Tilo Gockel.

 

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