Mastering Light – Getting the Most Out of Your Lighting Situation

One of the most important aspects of photography is light. The right lighting can make a difference between a photo that’s average, and one that’s spectacular. Lighting affects everything in the photo; bright sunshine can bring out details, and soft diffused light can add a soft glow that subdues details.

While learning to master light is a life-long learning process, understanding the basics can make a huge difference in your photography. Professional photographers understand how light works, and use it to their advantage. Great use of lighting.

Understanding how different types of light can affect the results of a photo, allows you to get the most out of your photo opportunities – and will help you to spot great lighting conditions when you see them!


The exposure of a photograph is the amount of light that reaches the camera’s sensor. Adjusting the exposure affects the overall brightness or darkness of the image. This is usually done by adjusting the camera’s aperture and shutter speed, and sometime the ISO.

One of the great things about shooting in aperture priority or shutter priority mode, is it allows you direct control over the amount of light that hits the sensor, allowing you more control over the resulting photo.

1. Aperture

Adjusting the aperture changes the size of the opening in the lens, adjusting the amount of light that you are letting into the sensor. I prefer to use aperture priority when adjusting the depth of field. For a shallow depth of field, and a background that’s blurry, use a wider aperture such as f/2.8 or f/3.5. For a photo that’s sharp and in-focus use a smaller aperture, such as f/11. This will allow less light to reach the sensor, resulting in a sharper photo.

2. Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is the amount of time that the shutter stays open for. The longer the shutter is open, the more light you let in. Adjusting the shutter speed adjusts the amount of light you are letting into the camera. Changing the shutter speed is perfect for photographing subjects that are in motion, allowing you to either freeze, or blur, the subject. Use a fast shutter speed to freeze moving objects, or a slow shutter speed, and a tripod, to blur moving subjects.

3. ISO

The ISO is the camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. Higher ISO settings can be used in low light situations, to get faster shutter speeds. Generally, it’s best to shoot in a low ISO when possible, since the higher the ISO the grainier an image will be.

Quality of Light

In addition to the amount of light that reaches the sensor, it’s also important to consider the quality of the light. Light comes in different qualities, it can be soft and diffused, or hard. The larger the light source is in relation to the subject, the more diffused, or soft, the light will be. Focused and more direct light produces hard light, with well-defined shadows.

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