If there is one thing that doing a proper photography course has taught me, it is this. I am definitely a natural light photographer. The times that I have tried to use artificial lighting have been nothing short of a disaster. I can’t seem to ‘see’ artificial light the way I can ‘see’ natural light.
This doesn’t surprise me in the least. My family have often laughed at my ability to ‘read in the dark’, but it’s just that I’d rather have a soft lamplight than a hard task light to do anything by. At home I turn on the lamps, rather than use the overhead lights, so my place is always rather dim by night, but I like it like that. Artificial light always seems to be too strong, too yellow, too white or too glarey. At least lamps are tucked away.
It will come as no surprise then that I have no great tips for artificial lighting – at least, none that are coming from me. I use artificial light as a reflector to natural light when shooting product / food shots (see image above), and that’s about it. Rather, in my quest to understand the whys and hows and whats, I visited dozens of great photography sites to learn more about why I’m just not catching on to artificial lighting buzz. You see, I really, really want to.
Three reasons why mastering artificial light makes sense
1. Freedom to shoot anytime
You are not bound by seasonal, meteorological or hourly changes in daylight. Natural light is, well, natural, but bear in mind that natural looks different every moment of every day. With artificial lighting, you are not tied to a golden hour or a sunny day or overcast day but only between the hours of 11 and 12:45… you know the drill! You can create the effect you want, whenever you want.
Shooting in natural light makes it very hard to replicate your work. This isn’t such a big deal for learner amateurs like me (shooting the backs of my kids’ heads in the backyard), but if you start shooting for others, they may want a particular type of shot and using artificial lighting means you can deliver it.
It’s hard to control Mother Nature’s whims and especially her cloud movements. Artificial lighting is consistent and ultimately more manipulable than natural light. It puts you in control of the distance, intensity, angle and hardness of the light. Even if you are only using artificial lighting to help natural lighting along (a flash bounced off a reflector outside, for example), it is still a pretty important part of being able to reliably get a certain type of shot.
So, artificial lighting is a good thing for a photographer to know about and hopefully master. This is especially true if you want to take recipe shots for your blog and you just can’t do it during the day. You definitely need to know great lighting because there’s nothing less appetising than dim, yellow-cast, grainy food…
And don’t forget, fake lighting produces some amazingly artistic images that natural light just wouldn’t allow for. Think candle light, street lights, fairy lights, torch light, the disco ball. It’s not just studio lighting and mug shots. Regardless, no matter what website I visited to find the 12 resources below, there was one golden rule that all of them agreed upon.
The golden rule when using artificial lighting
Don’t use your camera’s built-in flash. At least, don’t use it without either diffusing it or at least bouncing it off a surface. More on this in the tips below.
Here are 12 excellent references for getting the lighting right:
- 4 kinds of artificial light sources for photography from Image Maven
- How to use artificial lighting in food photography from Whole Lifestyle Nutrition
- How to make a reflector from The Gunny Sack
- Turn your tablet into a studio light from Photojojo
- Food & Light: Photography tips from Diane Chu from Averie Cooks
- How to set custom white balance from Click it up a Notch
- DIY EGO phtoography lights from The Adventure Bite
- 15 hard core lighting set ups to have you light like a ninja from DIY Photography
- 12 tips on night time photography from Living in Another Language
- Make your own light box from Simply Cooked
- DIY lighting hacks for digital photographers from Digital Photography School
- 5 tips for great indoor photos from A Beautiful Mess
Do you shoot using artificial light?