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  • Writer's pictureMary Callahan

All About Lighting: How To Get It Right

Proper lighting can make or break your photos for social media, your website, and additional advertising. But you don’t need to be a professional photographer to understand the basics of good lighting. Here are 5 inside tips to figuring out the best lighting for your photoshoot.

  1. Analyze the context. What are you shooting and where do you want the environment to be? For example, are you photographing clothing lying flat on a table, fit on a model in a studio, or on an actor in an outdoor scene? Understanding the context of the shoot will be your first step to knowing where you’re shooting and what kind of light you’ll have or need. If you’re outside, the sun will likely be your primary lighting source. You’ll have to pay attention to the time of day and weather conditions (as an insight, the best times for outdoor shoots are 1-2 hours before sunrise or 2-3 hours before sunset. Dreary days are actually preferable because the clouds diffuse the sun’s rays, producing a more even, soft light). If you’re shooting indoors, you may want to use some natural light from a window and/or an artificial lighting setup. The benefit of an artificial lighting setup is the consistency you’ll have throughout your shoot.

  2. Understand hard vs. soft light. Hard light is more direct and can cause sharp, dark shadows. Hard light can be great for showing a product’s texture since it picks up more details. Soft light uses a diffuser box to diffuse the light and create a softer look with less shadows. Positioning your lighting at multiple and various angles can also help take away shadows on or behind whatever you're shooting.

  3. Pay attention to temperature. A little BTS knowledge: The Kelvin scale measures the color temperature of light. The higher the number, the bluer/cooler the light. You can usually adjust your “white balance” (warm/cool balance) directly on your camera settings. While you may like the idea of a warmer or cooler scene depending on your brand aesthetic, remember that it is very important for your product’s colors to photograph accurately. Nearly 11% of consumers say they’d return a good due to color inaccuracies.

  4. Know the lingo. If you’re renting a studio with a lighting setup available. It can be helpful to be familiar with some lighting vocabulary. Key lights aim directly at what you’re shooting. Fill lights are low-intensity lights directed back at the key lights. And backlights go behind and above your product to reduce shadows and help the product stand out. A reflector increases the shape and direction of hard light while a diffuser softens light and reduces shadows.

  5. Use a background. If you want to be able to “clip” your product out of the shot (i.e. “cut it out” from its background for more versatile use in your advertising or as an icon), shoot the product against a contrasting-colored backdrop. Then use an online software to edit and remove the background from the image.

Our best advice for beginners? Take the time to play with your lighting before your actual photoshoot. Work with the setup, try out different settings, and get comfortable with lighting being an integral part of the photography process. Need help planning your photoshoot? Check out our photoshoot planning services here.


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