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Photography enthusiasts are constantly in search of ways to perfect their skills, and one of the most crucial elements they seek to master is light. Understanding how light works and how to effectively use it in photography can significantly enhance the quality of your images. In this article, we will delve into the latest techniques and insights on how to master light in photography in 2020.

The Importance of Light in Photography

Light plays a fundamental role in photography. It not only helps us to perceive the scene but also acts as a medium to convey our thoughts and emotions through the image. Unlike in movies where we record light emitted from the subject, in photography, light is the essence that shapes and defines our images.

Types of Light Sources

There are two main types of light sources in photography: natural and artificial.

  1. Natural Light: Natural light encompasses sources such as the sun, moon, and stars, which we cannot control. However, we can make the best use of it by selecting the right time and location to capture different lighting conditions, such as morning, noon, afternoon, night, cloudy or misty weather, and shooting under trees.

  2. Artificial Light: Artificial light refers to sources like candles, kerosene lamps, light bulbs, and flashlights. Unlike natural light, we have more control over artificial light and can easily shape it to our desired effect. A combination of natural and artificial light can create captivating images.

Understanding Light Characteristics

To master light in photography, it is essential to understand the different characteristics of light. Here are a few key aspects:

Light Direction

  • Front Lighting: This is when the light source is behind the photographer and directly illuminates the subject. Front lighting reveals details but creates flat images with minimal shadowing.

  • Side Lighting: Side lighting, characterized by horizontal light, adds depth, texture, and shadows to the image. It creates a three-dimensional effect and is commonly used during twilight.

  • Rear Lighting: Rear lighting occurs when the light shines from behind the subject towards the lens. This technique requires expertise in aperture and speed settings to capture the desired effect. Rear lighting can result in soft lighting on the subject’s face, hair highlighting, and even silhouettes against a sunrise or sunset background.

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Types of Light

  • Direct Light: Direct light flows directly from its source, creating strong and sharp shadows.

  • Diffused Light: Diffused light passes through clouds, fog, or fabrics, scattering in various directions. It produces soft lighting with subtle shadows.

  • Bounce Light: Bounce light occurs when light hits a surface and reflects onto the subject. The reflective surface influences the strength and color of the light. For example, a yellow reflector can warm the skin tone of a model’s face.

Light Contrast

Contrast refers to the distinction between light and dark areas of an image.

  • High Contrast: High contrast occurs when there is strong light, resulting in clear borders between light and dark areas.

  • Low Contrast: Low contrast happens when the light is weak, causing less differentiation between light and dark areas.

Color of Light

Different times of the day and seasons bring about variations in the color of light, measured in degrees Kelvin.

  • Warm Colors: At dawn or dusk, the light tends to be yellow or orange, ranging from 3,000 to 4,000 Kelvin. Capturing portraits during these times can produce a warm, yellow-orange hue on the subject’s face.

  • Neutral Colors: Around noon, the light transforms into white light, representing a harmonious blend of colors, approximately 5,000 to 6,000 Kelvin.

  • Cool Colors: On bright sunny days, the colors can reach up to 7,000-8,000 Kelvin.

It is possible to manipulate or eliminate certain colors using filters, special films, or darkroom techniques.

The Meaning of Light

Light and color choices can evoke specific emotions and meanings in photography.

  • Mystery and Sadness: Cloudy and darker light portray a scene with a sense of mystery and sadness, delving deep into the subject’s emotions.

  • Innocence and Purity: Brighter light, where white dominates, captures pure innocence, exemplified by a baby’s face or a white t-shirt.

  • Vitality and Energy: Colors like white clouds, blue sky, and red or yellow flowers represent the vibrancy and liveliness of life.

  • Leading the Viewer’s Eye: Strategic use of light can guide the viewer’s attention towards the most important element of the composition.

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Design: Composing Your Shots

Designing the composition of your images is crucial in conveying your intended message effectively. It involves arranging, selecting, organizing, and complementing various elements like lines, shapes, lights, and shadows within the frame. Here are some key design principles:


Lines are powerful tools that can direct the viewer’s gaze and add a sense of movement or stability to your images.

  • Vertical Lines: Vertical lines create a sense of resoluteness, dignity, simplicity, and hardness.

  • Horizontal Lines: Horizontal lines convey spaciousness, calmness, and purity.

  • Curved Lines: Curved lines evoke softness, grace, sensuality, and flexibility.

  • Diagonal Lines: Diagonal lines introduce liveliness and create a sense of movement or conflict.

Combining these types of lines can generate rhythm or chaos, depending on the placement and arrangement.


Different shapes contribute to the overall impact and interpretation of an image.

  • Triangles: Triangular shapes exude stability.

  • Squares and Rectangles: Square and rectangular shapes convey a sense of hardness and heaviness.

  • Circular Shapes: Circular shapes represent mobility.

Lights and Shadows

Understanding the interplay between light and shadow is crucial in creating a three-dimensional effect and adding depth to your images. Shadows can transform a flat plane into a volume, emphasizing areas, and creating a captivating composition.

The Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a fundamental rule in photography composition. It suggests placing the main elements of focus approximately one-third away from the edges of the frame, rather than centering them. This technique creates a more balanced and visually pleasing composition.

While the rule of thirds provides a general guideline, there are exceptions. For images with subjects that hold utmost significance, such as religious icons, statues, or prominent figures, placing them in the center of the frame can enhance their sanctity.


Mastering light in photography requires patience, practice, and a keen eye for detail. Understanding the different qualities of light and how to manipulate them can elevate your images from ordinary to extraordinary. By carefully considering composition, lines, shapes, light, and shadow, you can create visually striking photographs that convey your unique vision and emotions.

Remember, photography is an art form that continuously evolves. Stay open to experimentation, adapt to new techniques, and explore innovative ways to master light in your photography journey.

For more photography tips and inspiration, visit Caravansarai.

Source: Vietcert