One of the hardest things to get right in a photograph is the lighting. Too much light, too little light, or a combination of the two can ruin an otherwise perfect photo. But, luckily this problem can be solved if you understand the types of lighting, how they affect your camera and what you can do to use these effects to your full advantage.
Backlighting is just as it sounds: light that comes from behind your subject. This can make a beautiful photo, or turn a beautiful photo into a disaster. Backlighting is what turns a palm tree into a silhouette against the sunset. In this case, that is a good thing that adds to the photograph. But, the same thing can happen if you want to take a photograph of a person who has a strong backlight behind them, such as the sun, sky, or bright lights.
The camera reads the brightness behind the main subject and sets its internal meter to expose properly for the extra light. This underexposes your subject and will usually turn them into a silhouette. You can avoid this by using a fill-flash. A fill-flash will “fill” in the needed light, chasing away the shadows from your subject caused from the bright light behind.
2. Side lighting
Side lighting can have a very drastic effect on your photos, also. But, unlike backlighting, its brightness comes from the right or left of your subject. This tends to cast one side in total darkness, while putting the other in the spot light. This is a wonderful way to get a mysterious, dramatic portrait photo. Pose your subject in front of a window, with one of their shoulders close to the window. Your camera will expose properly for the bright side and will usually cast the other side of the face in complete darkness. If, on the other hand, you want a natural portrait you can use something to reflect light onto the darkened side of the face. A white poster board or other light reflecting surface can bounce enough light back onto your subject to soften the effect of side lighting.
Side lighting is wonderful for showing texture and adding depth to a photo.
3. Diffused Lighting
When most people talk about using natural light they are referring of course to the sun. "Shoot next to a window!", "Even outdoors!" they say, yet shooting with the sun as your light source presents a particular set of problems. On a clear, bright day, the sun is producing directional light. Directional light is usually not very good for certain photographs. Directional light is light that is traveling directly from the source to the subject. This type of light creates over-blown highlights and harsh shadows.Diffused lighting is light that is hitting the subject from MANY directions, producing a softer, more even light.
The image above comes from Wrightfood.com .The image on the left is directional light...notice the harsh shadows and blown-out highlights? The image on the right uses diffused lighting and is much more pleasant and powerful. The light is even, soft, and shows off the subject much better than the directional light.
How To Make Diffused Light
So how do you diffuse light? Simple. Place any shear or semi-transparent material in between the light source and your subject. A shear, white curtain works great. Many people buy drawing vellum at the art supply store and tape it up to their window. The key idea here is to avoid placing your subject in direct light or to diffuse the light to soften it. One word of caution: Diffusing the light will decrease the intensity or brightness, so adjust camera setting accordingly.
Sometimes lighting from any direction is just too harsh. This is when you want to soften the incoming light, to take away some of the contrast for a more pleasing photograph. Bright sunlight at midday is the worst kind of light for photography. The light colors are washed out and the contrasting shadows are too dark. To avoid this, wait for the sun to go behind a cloud or if your subject is moveable, put them in the shade of a tree or building and take the photo there. The light will be much more natural here and will result in a better photo. If it is not possible to move your subject, and there is not a cloud in sight, you can sometimes make your own shade with an umbrella or some similar object. Or, come back in the morning or evening when the sun is lower the sky.
4. Artificial Lighting
Artificial lighting comes in all shapes and sizes. From a built in flash on your camera to expensive lights in the studio, they all have their strengths and weaknesses.