How to Read Light in a Photo

Some of the most important photography knowledge comes from the ability to read light. Whenever you know where the light will be, if it will be harsh or soft, and how much shadow it will create in the photograph, you will be better equipped to shoot a better photo.

Learning how to read light in a photo can also be an extensive learning curve that takes practice. However, when you know how to read light in a photo, you are able to stop and think about your own compositions and succeed more than you fail.

Understanding Lighting

So, there are a lot of things that can determine what the lighting looks like in a photograph.

If you’re outdoors using natural light, you will find that the sun is completely uncontrollable and will really mess with your patience. During sunny skies, you will find that the sun can create harsh shadows on the face of your subject under the eyes, nose, and mouth, making them look very odd indeed.

Cloudy days can remove all shadows completely and make the photographs look extremely bland.

The best time to shoot outdoors is definitely during the golden hour. Warm, soft light can make any photograph look amazing.

If you are shooting in a studio, you have the ability to move your flash equipment around and find the best photography style that works for you. For example, closer flash will create a harsher, brighter effect than a flash that’s further away. Diffusers can soften the amount of direct light that hits your subject. There are so many ways to use light, but here’s how you can read light in a photo so you can find your style more quickly.

How to Read Light in a Photo

Let’s look at an example for this to make it easier. In the stock photo below, we see this guy who is either really angry, constipated, or trying to pass a kidney stone. I’ll let you use your imagination and decide¬†what’s going on. But there are some interesting lighting techniques that are going on.

1327383_64930133Alright, so taking a look at this photo, there is brighter light on the right side of his face (that’s our right, his left) as well as the right shoulder. The light then tapers off as you move your gaze to the left side of the photo. That indicates that the flash was positioned above him on that side.

Also, the lighting is pretty bright, and due to his 45 degree angle to the camera, the shadows are very quick to taper off. That indicates that the flash was very close to him.

Lastly, we can assume that the flash was set to a low burst with no diffuser, or was using an extremely light diffuser because of the light and shadow comparison.

See? Learning how to read light in a photo isn’t that difficult. You can do it with any type of photography too. Start to notice photographs when you are in a coffee house or restaurant and try to read the light in them. Learn which styles you like more and then practice them!

What style of lighting do you like most?