Online Tutorials: Light

Light levels are the most important factor in photography, without light it would simply not exist. The camera requires sufficient light so that the film or sensor will record the image exposed to it. There are many different situations where light levels affect your picture. Adjusting your light levels and exposure can lead to a vast number of creative possibilities.

Natural Overcast Light


This is by far the preferred light source, with most equipment and media designed to be used in this environment.

Natural light is perfect for portrait photography, as well as flower and plant photography, as the light is well diffused and has very little shadow due to the cloud cover. This can also be repeated with a diffuser or a semi-opaque window.

natural light

With diffused overcast light, you do not need to worry so much about the time of the day to get good light levels.

Adding shadow can set a particular mood in any photograph, particularly with portrait photography.

Clouds also add a wonderful feature to your landscape photography, although if the sky is completely grey, it will appear flat and boring.

Bright Sunny Days

There is a lot of media designed for bright days and obviously people like to get their cameras out for those holidays in the sun. However, this is not the best light in which to take photographs, as the bright sun creates harsh shadows and affects the colour balance of your image. If you are able to adjust your camera settings and work around the light, you can balance most of the problems out with ease.


Some of the common problems can be overcome by doing one or more of the following:

1. Move into the shade or make your own shade to remove the direct sunlight;

2. Use fill-in flash so that it compensates for the harsh shadows;

3. Use a reflector to bounce some of the sunlight onto the shadow side of your subject or a diffusion panel (that diffuses the direct sunlight in a similar way to which clouds do);

4. Use a lens hood if lens flare is obscuring your image;

5. Use a filter such as a polariser to cut down reflections, or an ND filter to block out some of the light, allowing more control over the shutter;

6. Camera metering can be easily confused in direct sunlight, especially with high contrast images. If you can adjust your meter settings, try to focus on an area considered "mid tone";

7. Change the time of day that you are photographing. A few hours' difference will obviously mean the sun has moved position. Early morning and evenings are considered ideal light conditions.

Artificial Light

A standard light bulb is "cooler" than natural light and often requires specific settings, filters or extra light sources such as a flashgun / speedlight.

warm light

If shot indoors, for example, with no other light source than a regular compact fluorescent 11W (60W equivalent) or 20W (100W equivalent) bulb, the resulting image will look very "warm" with a yellow / orange glaze over the whole image. To overcome this, specific light bulbs are available with a higher "Kelvin" rating, known as "balanced daylight" bulbs.


There are a number of other ways in which you can deal with any problems you might encounter through using regular light bulbs.

1. Change the white balance setting on your camera (if you have one) to one that will compensate for this level of light. If your camera has these settings, you will often find there is one available to suit most situations.

2. Compensate for this colour shift in your editing software.

3. Use an appropriate filter in front of your lens to compensate for the colour shift.

4. Use a flashgun / speedlight to get a balance of correctly exposed light from the flash and the light source.


Night Photography

Photographs do not always need daylight or artificial light to produce stunning images. Very successful images can be taken during the night giving a different perspective to the world around us.

There are a number of factors that you should take note of when shooting night time photography:

1. Always ensure your camera is stable by using accessories such as a firm tripod or fixed object such as a wall or postbox if you don't have a tripod handy.

2. Put your camera on self timer mode or use a remote release so that your own movement does not move the camera when you press the shutter.

3. Use manual mode. Your camera's internal exposure meter should let you know if you have the exposure right and you can easily adjust the shutter speed if things do not look right.

4. Be patient and take several shots, particularly with photographs such as star-trails, car light streaks and monuments that always have people around them.

night light