4 Great Insider Tips For Using Artificial Lighting In Photography

By Dzvonko Petrovski / October 24, 2016

Your Guide To Using Artificial Lighting In Photography

Photography, as any other discipline, presents constant challenges. This is due to settling into our comfort zones too easily, meaning that you will probably get used to natural light, and you will stick to it as long as you can.

“If it ain't broke, don't fix it” (I hear you say).

However, that will only last until you get in a situation where you’ll have to use artificial light, but the lack of experience using it will make it harder to do so.

So today I'll be demonstrating some ways for using artificial lighting in photography.

Artificial Lighting In Photography

Image by Alexander Dummer

Shaping light is equally important as setting up the scene and the model properly. Neither of those will work without the other.

So, how do you learn to shape light properly? You challenge yourself to do it even when it is unnecessary.

Artificial Lighting In Photography
by FreeStocks.org, on Pexels

The Challenge To You, The Photographer

Shoot photos using flash only and make sure you are trying to get complicated shots by modifying the light from the flashes to fit your own needs. Using flash with natural light is okay too.

1. Start Using Flash Only

Artificial Lighting In Photography Needn't Be Overly Complicated!?

It is wise to keep thigs simple and start with a single flash used without modifiers.

  • Try shooting it from the camera and let the camera communicate with the flash.
  • Use it in ways that it not directly pointed at your subject, but instead try bouncing it from the top wall or the sides, or the whole room right behind you.

Photo by Pierre Vignau

This is a good way to start because you don’t have to bother with modifiers at the moment, but you are learning the flash controls and the way it works, and you learn to anticipate the light by bouncing it around. In a way, you are learning how modifiers work indirectly.

2. Take It Off Camera

This is when you start facing angular light and the beauty of it direct light kills depthFact.

The image is suddenly flat with little to no shadows, so it doesn’t look flattering at all.

Removing the flash from the camera and pointing it at an angle towards your subject, the light will create depth, thus the light will be more flattering and it will result in a better picture.

Top Tip!

You can trigger flashes off camera either by using:
Hot shoe flash extender cables, Optical triggers or Radio triggers.

Photo by Pierre Lognoul

  • Cables are simple, you connect the cable to the camera hotshoe and the flash and the camera thinks that the flash is still connected to the camera and that is that.
  • Optical triggers are a feature that most of the flashes have, meaning they will be triggered every time they see another flash being fired. Thus you can use the built-in flash to trigger other flashes. Or just use a flash on your camera to trigger other flashes and so forth.
  • Radio triggers are basically a main controller (attached to the camera) and receivers (attached to each flash), which control every flash connected.
    Some radio triggers work as just that, they trigger the flash and that is their sole job, while others are able to control the flash completely.

Further Learning

Learn more about “Electronic Flash – Parts & Practices” by pro photographer Kent DuFault.
In this fantastic guide, you'll learn how to transform you portraits using flash. So why wait….explore your chance to “Unravel the Mysteries and Produce Beautiful Images With Your Flash Today!”

3. Modifiers

Once you are confident enough that you understand how the flash works, and that you understand how the angle affects the depth of the image, you can try different modifiers, in order to soften the light and shape it better.

This is the natural progression of the flash/light shaping learning curve.

Different diffusers create different effects. For example, the softbox softens the flash proportionally to its size, but in the meantime, it provides equal flash dispersion. This means that the softbox doesn’t have any hotspots.

Photo by Jeromy Shepherd

Umbrellas, on the other hand, also soften the light proportional to their size, but their shape (half a globe) makes hotspots by focusing light towards the center more when compared to the sides.

This means that the umbrella will have more light towards the center of the flash and less towards the other areas.

Top Tip!

Experimenting and learning what each modifier does, and how it will behave in certain situations is imperative to understanding exactly what equipment you'll need. Understanding how to use artificial lighting for photography when starting out can simply be trial and error – so don't be afraid to make mistakes

4. Use Of Multiple Flashes To Modify The Lighting

This is the final stage, but it is also the one that you actually never quite master. You just keep improving it. Once you start using more than one light source, the possibilities are endless.

You do need to know some basic lighting setups, however.

The 3-point lighting setup for example:

  1. Having one flash to be the rim light (usually the brightest, since it brings out the contours),
  2. One main flash (the one that lights up most of the portrait),
  3. Lastly, a fill flash (the one that fills in the shadows opposite of the main flash), or Rembrandt Lighting.

These are just examples, most of them you’ll figure out while experimenting, but the idea is, when you have something to start with, you can then modify that towards your needs and individual style.

Occasionally, you’ll start doing more complex lighting setups and experimenting further to change the look and improve your skills.

Photo by Aurimas

Of course, at a certain point, you’ll start combining flash with natural light since this is usually the best combination for non-studio work.

Summary

So, what did you think? There's a ton of useful stuff we can learn about the use of artificial light in portraiture. But, it doesn't just apply to portraiture (although this article is aimed more in that direction) because a great deal of commercial photography and product photography relies on artificial or modified lighting (indoors).

Time to give it a go (if you haven't already). Take an external flash and offer to take some photographs of your family or friends indoors with just a single flash, by bouncing the light off nearby bright surfaces like walls and ceilings. See how you get on.

Let us know how you got started – everybody has to pick up this style of lighting, somehow…


 

Using Artificial Lighting In Photography – Top Takeaways

  • Always keep things simple, don't overwhelm yourself in the early stages with gear and setup, stick to a single flash to start with
  • When you progress to the stage of multiple flashes, perhaps consider a large reflector first, to modify the lighting
  • Do some research on how you want your photos to come out. What kind of effect do you want? Perhaps print out some sample images to try and replicate what has been done in some photos you love
  • Try and master the stages step by step – it's better to get stunning results by bouncing a single flash, than trying a 3-point lighting setup the first time you head into a studio just because you saw a great YouTube video

Further Resources

Further Learning

Learn more about “Electronic Flash – Parts & Practices” by pro photographer Kent DuFault.
In this fantastic guide, you'll learn how to transform you portraits using flash. So why wait….explore your chance to “Unravel the Mysteries and Produce Beautiful Images With Your Flash Today!”

About the author

Dzvonko Petrovski

Photographer who loves challenging and experimental photography and is not afraid to share the knowledge about it.


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