A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, The First One Should Be ‘Wow’: Notes on Lighting

Light, and the ability to manipulate and capture it, makes impressive photos that have the ‘wow’ factor.

So far I have more or less shot almost half of the alphabet in my A-Z Fruit and Veg Photo Project and I have learned a lot.
Most of what I am learning is what not to do – or what doesn’t work, which leaves me feeling frustrated as I don’t feel closer to knowing what I should be doing! (Those of you who don’t know me, will soon realise I am super hard on myself! ha).
Kicking off this project with A is for Apple, I stringently applied what I had learned in my food photography bible, Plate to Pixel. I was happy with the results and it showed. This post alone has received 568 views and was ‘stumbled upon‘ 3 times – a first for me. I believe the success was due to a number of things, but most importantly my enthusiasm and creativity and the ‘rules’ or notes of lighting I had freshly in my mind. Being ‘new‘ to the game and having ‘life‘ on my plate – I have slowly forgotten the ideas I read on lighting.
This post is a refresher for me on the things I learned about natural light, and some ideas for you to think about!(This post is not to dismiss the use of artificial light, I am just trying to tackle one area at a time, and besides – I don’t have access to artificial light equipment).


Hard Light
Illuminates your subject in a direct way that produces dramatic effects. Shadows, highlights and contrast are accentuated. Direct sunlight is an example of hard light, whether outside or coming through a window.
Soft Light
Scattered or diffused light embraces the subject and produces a soft, gentle and smooth appearance. It is a broader source of light and therefore reaches more places in your frame. Sunlight beaming through a white sheet hanging over a window is an example of soft light or through a light umbrella outside. Reflectors are often used to bounce light back to the subject to reduce shadows and increase their vibrancy.
Sources of Natural Light
Either outside of through a window, it is more natural to the human eye, but is not a constant source and changes rapidly. The time of day, type of day and the season will all change the lighting in your frame. Experiment with light at different times of the day and different sources to get a better understanding of the sources available.
Direction of Light
Front lighting, back lighting and side lighting will all produce a different look and feel to the image.
  • Front lighting produces flat lighting and little contrast that makes textures and shapes look a little dull.
  • Back lighting produces strong effects with highlights and contrasts.
  • Side light adds dimension by enhancing shape, textures and shadows.
Mood, Ambiance and Tone
Depending on the mood and tone you are trying to create in your image, your lighting needs will change. More exciting photos are created when the light has been utilised to ‘fit’ the desired feel and ambiance that the photographer is trying to convey.
Remember to keep in mind what you are trying to convey in your image. Natural light is an ever-changing source. If you stay open-minded and are willing to push yourselves and adapt to the changes you face, you will not only learn a lot, but your photos will benefit from it.
Going forward, I need to make sure that I have an idea about the feeling I want to capture before I think about my lighting needs. I have been pushing myself to take photos everyday and the process has slowly turned into ‘getting it done‘ rather than saying, ‘I think I want a certain type of light to play around with, and today is just not the day’.  I have that luxury at the moment, because this is my journey and I should embrace the freedom.



4 thoughts on “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, The First One Should Be ‘Wow’: Notes on Lighting

  1. I have the Plate to Pixle “bible”, too, but must admit that although I’ve owned it for over 6 months, I’m still stuck at chapter 1. I really admire your motivation to try out all the different light settings – I know they make all the difference but I’m simply too lazy for that. Wish I had your tenacity and motivation…

    • Really! I have had it for a couple of months and this is the second time I am reading it. I just love her work. Maybe that is what motivates me – that I have the potential to create beautiful images just like Helene! I’m sure you wouldn’t be lazy if you saw great results from different light!?

      • Oh Yay! My post was totally worth it then. There are a few bits that I found drawn out, mostly because I wanted to get to the styling and composition parts! Let me know how you go.

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