Light Qualities

Previously we learned a bit about light qualities that have to be considered when you are planning your creative vision. Is it hard light, soft light, white, yellow and etc.

Here is a sample of hard light.

Here is a sample of soft light…

We’ve defined and discussed the key light (the main or most powerful light). What’s the source, the intensity, directionality and color?

We’ve learned that… Shadow defines form. With no shadows, your subject will appear flat and two dimensional.  So to make our photos more realistic and more 3D, we need to give a LOT of attention to the shadows.

See how the shadows make this photo of a mannequin look 3D?

Here is a sample of a photo with fewer shadows… see how it looks more 2D (or flatter) than the mannequin photo?



We’ve learned to study shadows. They are more important than most beginners to photography realize. In fact, in portrait photography, all six of the most popular lighting setups are named for the shadows they create! (Broad light, narrow light, split light, loop light, butterfly light and Rembrandt light.)

Are there any shadows? What is their directionality? What about the shadow’s depth? If the shadow is too dark, we lose all the facial details. If it is too light, we lose our roundness and 3D effect.

We’ve learned that we can manipulate our shadows by adding in a secondary light called a fill light.

The fill light is generally set opposite to the main (or “key”) light and adjusted so that its’ intensity is less than the key light. In this way, it fills in the shadow areas but doesn’t completely eliminate them.

Your on camera flash can be used as a fill light, so can white reflectors, walls or even a van!

This means that a light source doesn’t have to actually GENERATE the light; it can merely reflect light from another source. Are your shadows not dark enough? Use a black reflector!

We learned about raccoon eyes and several ways to fix them…we did several exercises to help sharpen our “creative eye” and learn to predict the effect of various light and shadows affecting our subject.

Here are a couple samples of raccoon eyes…


We learned how to take a lot of weight off our subjects by controlling the depth of shadows and the color of their clothing.

We learned how to make our subjects look younger by filling in the shadows created by the wrinkles on their skin.

We’ve learned about the causes of the glare in our subject’s eyeglasses and several easy ways to remove it.

We’ve learned why studio photographers use umbrellas and softboxes…it’s to soften and diffuse the light so we can control the shadows!

In this review of ambient light we’ve briefly touched on and covered a lot of ground. It wouldn’t hurt you to go back and re-read Volume 5, Volume 6 and Volume 8. Re-do the photo exercises. Light and shadow is a pretty important area to master.

Moving on – Let’s get more into hard light and how to shape and control it…