5 Easy Tips to Master Photographic Lighting

Written by Robert Lowdon

Robert Lowdon is an internationally published commercial photographer based out of Toronto, Canada. He spends his time photographing architecture and industrial projects for the most part.

Published December 30, 2013

woodworker industrial photography

Lighting a subject can sound extremely technical. Which it very well can be, but the basics are very simple.

I usually hear the following statement from new photographers, “Gee I would really like to get into lighting or learn to light” or something along those lines. So for all those people here are five quick tips to get you started on your way to mastering photographic lighting.


When using photographic lighting on location you need to meter to get desired effects. Use a light meter to measure and balance the output of your lights for proper exposure. Having a light meter is like using a map when travelling. Do you just drive somewhere with no reference points or guides? You need to meter.

Light Placement

One of the most important factors when photographing a subject is the placement of your lights. For instance short lighting, when your lights are closer to the subject, will produce a higher contrast image. Conversely broad lighting creates a more evenly light image. Also, the angle of the lighting relevant to the subject will create different effects.

Output is Everything

Generally, a photographer when first starting to light will actually over-light the subject. They crank the strobes to full power and light goes everywhere with no control. Remember lighting is all about precision. When used properly photographic lights or strobes will give you total control of your final image.

Use The -2, 0, +2 Rule

An easy rule to follow when lighting is to use a simple formula.  I usually call this the 2,4,6 rule, not exactly sure if I heard that somewhere or if it came out of my brain but it is what I use. For this you want you want your shadows to be underexposed by 2 stops, your mid tones at perfect exposure and your highlights over exposed by 2 stops. This will give you a 6 stop variation and a perfect exposure every time.

Control Your Shadows

Not controlling shadows properly is one of the most common mistakes you will see by photographers. Shadows that don’t look natural are usually not acceptable. For instance never have someone stand right against a background, it just doesn’t look right. Also use a fill card or reflector to help fill in shadows on the face for more flattering images.

These 5 tips to Master Photographic Lighting should get you well on your way with studio lighting. Remember always to experiment and try new things as a photographer. This is what makes you creative and different from all the rest.

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