Photography Class
Lesson 7: Artificial Lighting
Ask a Question

Introduction: Artificial Lighting

Being aware of electric lighting used indoors and outdoors will better tune your eye to color casts and shadows, but incorporating artificial light into our images can be challenging. This lesson goes over some of the most common sources of artificial light, and how we can harness these various light sources to make awesome photos.

That Darn Flash

Understanding your camera's flash module is critical to getting great images that use flash effectively, and avoid overexposure or uneven lighting.

It is important to note that flashes are different than a continuous light source like a light bulb. They discharge a LOT of light at a fraction of a second. Your camera's battery directs current to a tiny electrical component called a capacitor to discharge a high amount of electricity into a tiny xenon tube inside your camera's flash housing. That tiny pop you hear when the flash goes off is the sound of that light tube being charged. The brightness and intensity of the flash will vary - it depends on how big the flash-head is, how it is designed into your camera, even the charge level of your battery - depending on your camera.

Some cameras have settings that allow you to control the intensity of the on-camera flash. If your camera has a flash built into its body, reference your camera's manual to see if there is any custom functionality beyond automatic control.

On average, the light being thrown from your camera's flash will usually travel a max of about 15 feet, so be sure that your subject is positioned near your camera. Also be aware of 'bounce' surfaces nearby.

If your camera has a pop-up flash, try diffusing it with with a semi-translucent sheet of plastic like eejit has in their Instructable.

Fill Flash

The most common use of on camera flash is called Fill Flash. Fill Flash is exactly what it sounds like, you are using your camera's flash to illuminate shadowy subjects in the foreground of your image.

The above picture of my dog Stella was shot in front of window light without, then with, a fill light from the camera's flash module. When using fill flash, it can dimensionally flatten your images, so be aware of how your image appears when using flash.

If your subject appears too washed out while using flash, try backing away from your subject, and zooming in with your camera lens. This way the light has to travel farther, losing intensity as the photons from the flash pop need to travel farther to bombard your subject with light.

Indoor Lighting

Remember back to our Important Camera Settings Lesson when we went over color temperature and setting white balance on your camera. Indoor lighting's color temperature typically ranges from 2700°K to 3000°K, and the presets on your camera are designed to adapt to very specific kinds of indoor lights, removing the color cast associated with incandescent and fluorescent bulbs. Shooting in semi-automatic and manual modes allows you to white balance your photographs to match your light source. If your images ever appear blue or orange indoors, try adjusting your camera's white balance.

With the advent of compact fluorescent lights and LED light bulbs, we can find lights that can go to just about any color temperature. Some of them can even be controlled by your smartphone!

I know this is a no-brainer, but indoor lighting isn't as bright as the sun, and your camera settings need to be adapted for shooting inside. Your shutter will typically be open longer than it was while you were shooting in natural light, so depending on your camera and the settings you have access to manipulating, you may need to use a tripod inside to get a crisp shot.

The benefit to working with indoor lighting is that bulbs are usually quite soft and diffused unless you are directly next to your light source. Lightbulbs can throw shadows in all kinds of directions, we will get to some creative use of this later in the lesson, but it is important to be aware of the shadows being created from multiple light sources in a room, or if there are multiple color temperatures being emitted.

Supplemental Lighting

If you are having trouble getting great shots with existing light in the environment you are photographing in, it's time to bring in some additional light sources. The following goes over some easy options and what they are used for.

Light Stands

Using light stands is a great way to have controllable, and movable light sources for your photographs that can be packed away and stored when not in use. This set is an affordable starting kit that could work for lots of different lighting situations.

Light stands have a lot of couplers that photographers can use to attach fancy diffusers like umbrellas to them, but these kinds of setups are bulky and unwieldy, and can get expensive quickly

Clip Lights

Using clip lights or clamp lights is one of the fastest ways to mimic studio light indoors. This style of light is even faster than working with a light stand because you just plug them in, clamp them to something near by, position the dish, and turn them on.

They store easily, and can quickly be implemented in staged photographs to create fill light.

My 'home-studio' is actually just a converted one-car garage, with a fancy paint job. There is no natural light that comes in, and I rely entirely on movable clamp lights with LED bulbs. Using two or more clip lights attached to shelves or light stands has revolutionized my ability to make great images in any poorly lit space.

Paper Lanterns

A paper lantern is awesome for lighting a larger space with soft diffused light. It differs from a clip light because it is able to throw light spherically, whereas a clip light has a dish that only allows it to throw light hemispherically.

I most often use paper lanterns for shooting in my kitchen because it fills the room with a soft light that can act as a great fill light for the natural light coming in through the windows. My shadows are rendered soft, and the objects photographed are evenly toned.

Class Project: Harnessing Light

It's time to use different artificial light sources to illuminate your images. For this class project, we are going to build a dimmable 2-point lighting rig. This is the kind of lighting set up I use for 90% of my photographs on Instructables, and versatile to no end.

Materials Needed:

Connect the AC Dimmer to your power outlet, and put then plug in the extension cord coming out of the AC dimmer. You now have a mobile variable-power outlet that you can plug the clip lights into. Clip your light to a nearby shelf or object. Don't be afraid to use A-clamps or gaff tape to hide your cords.

The dimmer switch can help you control the light intensity of the clip lights, perfect for dialing in the amount of fill light you need in mixed-light indoor setting. By stretching a shower cap over the clip light's dish, we are able to get a desirable soft diffused light being thrown onto our subjects, instead of a direct light that casts a harsh shadow.

Get a clip light and explore how attaching it to different objects in a fixed scenario affects the exposure and composition of your photographs. Share your results with other Instructablers in the Class Project module to complete the lesson.

If you want to really play, see what happens when you add a third lighting source, Instructables author EvanKale does a great job explaining the advantages of 3-point lighting. You could even combine your artificial light source with the reflector we made in the last class.

In our next lesson, we tackle Composition and dive into what separates a lucky shot from a great photograph.

Be the First to Share