3 Part Series How to Create Amazing Images

This is part 3 in our series.

How To Create Amazing Images – The Basics of Light

The fundamentals of seeing light:

Photography in reality is all about seeing and capturing the light. Photographers are often called the painters of light. So it will be no surprise how important lighting is in the entire realm of photography.  If you are a beginner photographer you may not even be paying attention to these concepts of light, but as you move down the path of becoming a seasoned photographer you will become a person the truly sees all the differences in light and knows how to capture the different aspects and use them to your advantage while you create an amazing image.

In our discussion today we will be focusing on four basic characteristics of light:

  • Quality: How “soft” or “hard” the light is, and the difference between “warm” and “cool” light.
  • Direction: The position of the light source relative to the scene.
  • Shadows and Highlights: The darkest and brightest regions in a photo, where details become obscured.
  • Light Sources: Light can come from many sources and the feel of the light changes considerably based on the source.

Quality of Light

Quantity of light, of course, is how much light is present in a given scene. But what is quality of light? As in most things quantity is how much or how many, and quality is how good it is. So how do you measure whether the light is good or not?

The simplest definition of quality of light is this: quality of light is defined by the size of the light source relative to the subject. But the most important characteristics of light are Harshness (hard or soft) and Temperature.

Hard light often creates harsh, sharp-edged shadows. With soft lighting, the light is more diffused and evenly spread out. Direct sun overhead on a bright sunny day is an example of hard lighting. When the sun is behind clouds in the sky, this creates soft lighting.

Hard and soft lighting can also be created artificially with the use of different lights. A direct spotlight would be another example of hard lighting while gentler overhead lighting with various lamps around to help fill in shadows could be considered a more soft form of lighting.

Hard Light

Hard lighting occurs when you have a relatively concentrated light source. Areas behind the light source are often blocked off from the light and create hard, dark shadows. Hard light sources include the sun, bare light bulbs and flash bulbs.

How To Create Amazing Images - The Basics of Light

Example of Hard Light caused by bright direct sunlight.  Note the hard shadows to the left.

Soft Light

Lighting is softened when the illumination is scattered. Clouds or light-toned surfaces can create soft lighting. When soft lighting is present, it creates shadow areas which are diffused and soft edged.

How To Create Amazing Images - The Basics of Light

Example of soft light.  Notice no shadows on the face even though the hair is nicely back-lit.

How To Create Amazing Images - The Basics of Light

Another example of soft light caused by dense cover of a forest.

One form of lighting isn’t necessarily better than the other one. It all depends on what the desired effect is. Obviously, hard lighting in a normal portrait situation would not be desirable. Hard shadows cast on a human face can look distracting and unprofessional. However some abstract or nature footage would look great with hard lighting.

Color Temperature

Color Temperature is an indication of weather it is warm light (more yellow hues) or cold light (bluish hues).  This can be pretty technical and will be covered in another lesson.

How To Create Amazing Images - The Basics of Light

 Example of cold light.  Twilight or the blue hour right after sundown produces this deep blue light.

How To Create Amazing Images - The Basics of Light

Example of Warm Golden Light

Tip: Sunrise and sunset are favorite times of the day for landscape photographers because of the quality of light.

Tip: Cloudy or shadowed conditions produce a marvelous soft light for portrait photography.

Direction of Light

No matter of the quality of a light source, all light sources also have a direction, and subjects will look very different depending on whether they are front-lit, side-lit or back-lit.


Front-lit subjects are those that face the light source, and tend to be evenly illuminated without complicated shadows. Because of this, front-lit subjects tend to be the simplest to photograph, especially for landscape, urban, and simple portrait photography. On the flip side, such lighting isn’t as dramatic, and photos can often turn out flat.

How To Create Amazing Images - The Basics of Light

Example of a front lit subject


Side-lit subjects offer a lot more depth and complexity than front-lit ones, because the combination of light and shadow often creates a sense of three-dimensionality that viewers experience through their own eyes. This is very useful in producing storytelling portraits and landscapes.

How To Create Amazing Images - The Basics of Light

Example of side lit subject creating interesting shadow


Back-lit subjects are by far my favorite. These subjects have their back to the light source, so as the photographer, you’re shooting while facing the light. Backlighting is frequently used by landscape photographers to achieve a wide range of effects. Two of these are silhouettes and lens flares. Objects become silhouettes when they are thrown into sharp contrast with the light source, usually so that viewer attention is on the light itself.

How To Create Amazing Images - The Basics of Light

Example of back-lit subject causing heavy silhouetting

How To Create Amazing Images - The Basics of Light

Example of back-lit subject using magical lens flares



Shadows and Highlights


Shadow is the darkest part of an image. When we are dealing with a single light source this is normally a non-reflective object or surface facing away from the light source or in the shadow of something else.


The highlight is the brightest part of an image. When we are dealing with a single light source this is normally a reflective surface or object facing the light source.

Light Sources


As a light source, the sun is the primary source of infrared light. It emits visible light, infrared light and ultraviolet light. However, daylight can be unpredictable due to changing weather conditions and clouds tend to block most of the infrared spectrum.

Tungsten light

Normal tungsten bulbs emit more infrared radiation than visible light; a 100W tungsten bulb emits only 1W of visible light, but 99W of infrared. Unfortunately most of the infrared light is deep IR and falls outside of the sensitivity of digital camera sensors. You would need higher ISO setting and longer exposure to capture infrared photographs under tungsten illumination.

Fluorescent light

Fluorescent light bulbs are designed to save energy and reduce heat by only emitting visible light. There is still just a bit of near IR that is emitted but this is so low of an intensity that infrared photography under fluorescent lighting is impractical.

Electronic flash light

Electronic flash units emit quite a bit of near IR light and other than the sun is the most useful light source for IR photography. In fact, flash units emit just as much and in some cases even more infrared light than visible.


Now we have a little head knowledge about light but the magic starts happening when you start getting out and really experimenting with all these lighting types and conditions. Photography is all about experimentation or trial and error so it is incredibly important to get out and shoot and try all these thing out.  Drop me a line and let me know your experiences.

By implementing these relatively simple rules you can rocked your photography to the next level. Remember always consider your light source and how it is going to affect your image.  Then use this knowledge and try many options and bam, magic!!

If you have more questions on this topic or any other topic do not hesitate to ask. Post your comments and questions here or contact me directly via email or on any other social media network.

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Until next time, get out and capture the adventure!!


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Written by Wayne Moran - Visit Website