6 Types of Light Every Photographer Should Be Prepared For

Light is one of the most important elements in any photograph. Whether a grand landscape or an intimate portrait, light can make or break an image. Lighting is something that must always be considered when taking a photo, so it is important to understand the different types of lighting and how to make the most out of each.

Front Lighting
This may seem simple, but front lighting can often be a challenge to photograph. Front lighting occurs when the light source is directly behind the photographer. It can be challenging because no shadows are cast across the subject, causing the subject to appear almost two-dimensional. That lack of depth can be used to create a strong pattern across your image.

athens greece buildings

The front lighting here helps convey a two dimensional feeling, further giving a feeling of congestion of the buildings of Athens, Greece.

Back Lighting 
I always used to hear people say, “oh, don’t shoot into the sun”, but sometimes shooting into the sun could really give your image a unique look. Backlighting is when the light source is behind your subject. Many times if there are things in the air, such as fog, mist, or even pollution, you can create dramatic images with atmospheric perspective. Unlike front lighting, this will accentuate depth and draw the viewer in.

hawaii ocean wave

The backlight here helps to enhance the depth of the coastline.

Side lighting
Side lighting occurs when the light source is coming from either side of the photographer. Side lighting helps to bring out textures and shapes that might otherwise go unnoticed with front or back lighting. It also helps to add depth and form to your subjects.

Sand Dune Ripples

The side lighting rakes across the dunes, highlighting the wind ripples.

Reflected Light
Reflected light is a non-direct, soft light that is usually bounced off of one surface to another. It is typically found in tight areas where the light can bounce back and forth such as in room, alleyway, or slot canyon. Reflected light is non-direct so it is great for bringing out textures and colors.

Zebra Slot Canyon

The light bouncing around the canyon walls helps to bring out the warm colors of the sandstone.

Diffused Light
Diffused light is a very soft, non-direct light. It is good for all types of photography as it minimizes harsh shadows and hard contrast. Whether it’s an overcast day or soft box in the studio, diffused light makes it easy to evenly light your subjects.

Bamboo Forrest

The overcast skies diffused the light for this soft image of a bamboo forrest.

Spot Lighting
Spot lighting is when your light source highlights a specific part of the image. It adds drama and helps to isolate the focal point of your image. Spot lighting can create a very nice contrast in an image.

Fitzroy star trails

The rising moon casts a spotlight on beautiful Mount Fitzroy.

Leave a Reply

14 Comments on "6 Types of Light Every Photographer Should Be Prepared For"

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Mark Bauer

Nice synopsis Grant. Congrats on the Outside Mag piece! Very nice work.


Handy cheat sheet, thanks!


Ambient lighting isn’t just reflected, non-direct lighting, although that is what it can be. It is the environmental lighting that normally occurs in the environment in which you are shooting. It can refer to the sun, the moon, house lights, street lights, whatever. Just not lights that YOU supply to take the shot (flash, studio lights, modeling lights, etc.)


Good pictures and thanks to share about using different types of lights in photographs.




very nice composition, good use of light, captured beutifully,


Ferdy RK

Thank you for good reminder of light…
And it’s well nice shoots too…salute

Aashika Kansara

great works… Thanks for the article…


Useful Post, Thanks for sharing 🙂


I love the pictures displayed here and also the ones on your website.
Just curious, can you make a living by being a landscape photographer and selling your prints?
How does it work for a landscape photographer?

poonam chakresh wagh
great work……….. love this artical
Pamela Daisy Sallegue

Such a great article. Now, I don’t have to worry about having too much light, and low light, either way, they’re advantageous. Thank you Grant for bringing this up! 🙂

Mike Hilmer

Great tips everyone can use. In my opinion there is no standard way of taking light art photographs. You just have to experiment and find the right balance between photography backgrounds and the light objects you would like to create. Moreover, this photography works best at night. Survey the spot where you will be setting up the camera to take shots in the dark.

Back To Top