24th Oct 2005

Digital Photography Lighting

Good digital photography lighting is not only an absolute requirement of a successful photo, but it can also create mood, emotion, and depth as well. The direction, quality, and intensity of light can dramatically alter your final picture result. Unfortunately, many times a digital camera’s flash unit alone is not enough to handle the job and some sort of auxiliary digital photography lighting is required.

If you are shooting portrait or product photographs, in an indoor or studio environment, then rules of digital photography lighting are the same as those of conventional photography lighting.

Whether it’s your living room, basement, or a real studio, you need full control over the lighting if you’re end result is to be a professional quality photo. Human portraits, for example, usually require three to five lights: main, fill, background, head and kicker lights. You can purchase lights individually or in kits of several types of lights. You will need to make a choice between continuos lights or flash. You never use the two different styles in combination with each other, and both styles have their good and bad points.

If you choose to go with flash units, try to pick the type that come with modeling lights that allow you to see what you are doing without firing the flash during setup. Human subjects are much more comfortable with flash lighting as opposed to bright hot lights shining relentlessly on them during a photo session. The down side is that unless the flash unit is designed to work with your digital camera, it can instantly fry your camera’s delicate electronic components when it is connected to the hot shoe and the flash sequence is triggered. Another downside to flash units are that they are very expensive.

Unlike built-in flash units, an auxiliary unit cannot automatically set your camera’s exposure, so a good flash meter is an absolute must.

Continuous tungsten lights, also known as photofloods and spots, are a lot easier to set up and a great deal more affordable. The disadvantages are, of course, heat and glare. Try and select the right size bulbs, and make use of reflectors instead of direct lighting, to help reduce the heat and glare factors.

Be sure to adjust your digital camera’s :white setting” to offset the increased light that is going to be hitting the subject. You may have to do some trial and error to find the optimum setting.

There are many good books written on conventional photography lighting, but I have yet to find a good one that focuses on digital photography lighting. That being said, there is very little difference between the two types of camera’s lighting requirements, so pick a book that looks good to you and keep it handy.

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