Category Archives: Lighting

Tips, techniques, and equipment for lighting.

20 Resources That Will Get You Lit

0233 - Domo Lightbulb
Creative Commons License photo credit: Aaronth

Lighting… It’s a complicated mixture of knowledge, equipment, and magic. You shouldn’t attempt it unless you’re a trained professional with lots of money and a big studio of your own. In addition, you’ll need to memorize thousands of rules and lighting setups in order for your photos to look decent.

Oh wait… forget what I just said. That’s just how it appears before you take the time to learn it.

[tweetmeme]I have to admit that I’m just starting that learning process, and I wanted to share some great resources recently suggested by the readers of Epic Edits. I’ve split up the links into lighting diagrams, lighting tutorials, lighting websites, and lighting courses/workshops. Start clicking!


4 lighting diagrams and sample shots from a fashion photographer.

16 simple lighting setups with simple explanations.

Documentation of a Project 52, including 11 lighting diagrams (and counting).


Five of the most basic portrait lighting techniques.

A great concept that shows a full spectrum of effects by moving a single light.

An exploration of simple lighting to achieve different effects on the same subject.

A collection of 33 video tutorials, mostly having to do with lighting techniques.

This playlist titled “Digital Photography 1 on 1″ has great lighting Q&A with examples.

A good example of the “less is more” motto — check out the photo and diagram!

An intuitive approach to photographic lighting — start with one!


Learning how to use off-camera flash with your dSLR.

Lighting, Photography, Fashion and Editorial Portraiture on Location and In Studio.

The blog of editorial photographer Zack Arias

Honestly Biased Insights on Photography by Syl Arena.

Articles by Chris Grey dealing with lighting techniques and equipment.

Many example photos and lighting diagrams for portraits.

Ok… so this one isn’t really a lighting resource, but the photos are awesome to study!


A nuts and bolts type of workshop — Off Camera. Manual Mode. Old School.

Learn to light without spending a fortune.

Online training for photographers — check out the stuff by McNally and Ziser.

[tweetmeme]Special thanks to Nathan Nontell, William Beem, Kris Mitchell, Steve, Shawn, Tomas Webb, Janne, Kunal Daswani, udi, Don Winkler, Mike Blanchard, Stefan Tell, Damien Franco, Jay, and Andrew Boyd for commenting on my previous post asking for lighting resources. You guys are awesome.

Best Studio Lighting Tutorials?

So… it pains me to admit it, but I’ve turned a new page today. I finally learned something about artificial lighting (studio lighting to be exact).

I know… *gasp* say it isn’t so!

But don’t worry, I’m no expert quite yet. All I basically learned was that you set your camera to ISO100, f/8, and 1/200-1/250 seconds, then tune your exposure with the power settings on the lights (at least that’s the “norm” for this particular studio). Maybe not Earth-shattering for those familiar with lighting, but this is all new for me (and maybe some of you).

I’ve got a model shoot coming up next weekend for Green Man T-Shirts and I spent about an hour at DK3 Studios yesterday with Dave King learning how to work his equipment. (Cool dude, by the way. And an awesome/affordable studio here in San Diego).

I’m still blown away by how simple this stuff can be if you switch the camera over to manual and follow a few basic rules… maybe I’ll post more about this after the photo shoot next weekend, but right now I’m looking for advice.

Assuming that the technical side of the equipment is not the issue, I’m still up against lighting techniques for photographing models (upper body shots, portraits, etc.).


What are the best studio/model/portrait lighting techniques that you’ve encountered?

I’m looking for links to articles, resources, ebooks, blogs, etc. Here are a few that I’ve gathered myself…

I’m sure there are many more out there, so feel free to share in the comments. If we get enough, I’ll post them in an article next week so others can check it out.

Trading Cards for Strobists!

Strobist Trading Cards, Vol. 1

I’m a self-admitted non-Strobist — “fake” light scares me when it comes to photography, and I haven’t yet taken the initiative to learn my way out of this phobia. So anything that can bring lighting techniques down to my level is welcomed with enthusiasm. I’m fairly certain that these trading cards from Zeke Kamm and David Hobby are the best way to reach (and teach) people like myself.

What’s that? Trading cards? Yup — bite sized gold nuggets of wisdom! These guys put together a pack of 24 cards (same size as baseball cards) with amazing photos on one side and lighting diagrams on the other. This is a great way to teach the subject — one example, one diagram, and one explanation. Each card displays a unique setup with unique results.

The really cool thing about the cards is that they cover a wide variety of setups. We’ve got everything from strobes, softboxes, gobos, umbrellas, flashlights, gels, bounce cards, natural light, and lights from the hardware store! The cards not only show you what equipment you need, but how to position it to achieve the effect displayed on the opposite side of the card. This is super-handy because positioning is just as important as the actual equipment.

Sample Card 1-0 Sample Card 1-1

The images on the cards mainly cover subjects such as portraits, still life, product, and food photography. But they even include a few macro, landscape, and various other topics. Hey, if nothing else, the photos are pretty amazing by themselves!

Sample Card 2-1 Sample Card 2-0

I would recommend this deck of cards to any photographer wanting to learn about “Strobist” techniques in a simple and straightforward manner. You basically get 24 different lighting lessons for less than $1 each. Not a bad deal! Visit the following link to get your own set!


Disclaimer: Zeke sent me a pack of the cards at no charge for the purpose of reviewing them and providing feedback. I was not payed for this review and I’m not in any way affiliated with the product owners or distributors. I just think they’re dang cool!

Quick Tip: Practical Methods for Overexposure

Keeping up with the theme of overexposure this week, I thought I’d write a little add-on article to my post titled “Should You Expose For Shadows Or Highlights?” And if you’re having a hard time getting started on photos for the “Blown Away Project“, these tips should help you get more comfortable with taking overexposed photos. So here’s how you do it with various types of cameras and settings.


Most compact cameras will have to be tricked into overexposing, unless the camera has exposure compensation. If it doesn’t, or if you don’t want to use it, just focus your camera on a dark area before taking a shot of the brighter area. This makes the camera meter it’s exposure for those dark areas. Just make sure you keep holding that focus button down as you move into the shot. Also try to focus on something that is the same distance away as your subject, because you’ll have locked the focus as well as the exposure.

If you have a non-compact camera, you can also use your exposure lock to do the same metering method while freeing up your focus lock.


This category includes things like shutter priority, aperture priority, and even program mode or fully auto mode. If your camera has these types of controls, it probably also has an exposure compensation control. Use your exposure compensation by turning it up to the positive side by a stop or two. This will make the camera expose higher than normal and give you blown out photos.


If you like to shoot fully manual, you probably also know how to read your light scale or exposure meter in the viewfinder. Of course, to overexpose you want to use settings that make your meter fall to the positive side (usually to the right of zero). If you want to make life a little easier, you can also use the exposure compensation control to shift your scale and make the bar fall on zero when you’ve got the shot properly overexposed.

So those are the basics of overexposing a photo, now get out there and try it out. It’s an interesting activity when you don’t expect your previews to look the way you saw it through the viewfinder. You can’t tell what you got until you check it out on the LCD because a blown out photo sometimes looks much different than the real life scene.

Should You Expose For Shadows Or Highlights?

I guess the answer to this question can only come from the photographer taking the shot. Really, you should expose for whatever helps you capture your vision of the scene in front of you. I’ve seen great photos that were taken underexposed, overexposed, and perfectly exposed — but the photos were great because they captured the artist’s intent.

Expose For Shadows Or Highlights?

It’s generally accepted that digital photographers should expose for the highlights in order to keep things from getting blown out. It’s generally a good rule of thumb because pure white pixels tend to be more distracting than pure black pixels — but there are always exceptions. I’ve also heard once or twice that film photographers should expose for the shadows because the film can be processed in such a way that the highlights can be somewhat revived — I have no idea if that’s totally true, but maybe a film buff can set us straight in the comments.

Regardless, these are general rules and you’re probably better off knowing the story behind the root issues than taking advice from a rule of thumb. The intent of this article is only to provide information that can be used to make decisions about exposure in harsh lighting conditions. So here we go…


Film and digital sensors make a record of light intensity. Bright light is recorded at a high intensity, while dim light is recorded at low intensity. Film and sensors have a limited ability to record light, and they can only capture light between certain intensities. If there is not enough light to register, you end up with black. If there is too much light, you end up with white. These high and low thresholds make up what’s called the dynamic range (definition by Jim Goldstein) of the medium.


When you photograph a scene that contains light intensities beyond the dynamic range, you end up clipping one or both sides of the range. You can see when this happens by checking your image histogram for clipped values. This usually occurs in harsh lighting conditions such as bright sunlight. At this point, no matter what you do to your f-number, shutter speed, or medium sensitivity, you still have the same dynamic range. One option to deal with this issue is to use HDR techniques (which I won’t get into here) so that the entire range can be captured. The other option is to shift your exposure and try to minimize the damage.


Glowing Daffodil

Well, you actually have three buckets to choose from when it comes to shifting your exposure: preserve the highlights, preserve the shadows, or throw both out the window and expose for mid-tones. All three options will result in a different image, and each has it’s positive and negative characteristics. As the artist, you have to decide what you want the photo to look like, and how to go about making that happen.

To assist with visualizing all this stuff about dynamic range, highlights, shadows, light intensity, clipping, HDR, etc. I’ll use an analogy to bring it to something a little more tangible. Imagine that you’re standing on the peak of a small mountain surrounded by beautiful scenery. You have your camera, but you only brought your fixed focal length lens. You want to capture a part of the scene before you, but when you look through the camera you realize that you can’t get the whole scene in one shot — your viewing angle isn’t wide enough! What to do? You can’t move off the mountain peak because then it will be in the way of your scene, and you can’t switch to a wider lens because you didn’t bring your camera bag.

Keep this analogy in mind and I’ll come back to it as I discuss exposure options. In the analogy, the scene represents the full range of light intensity you want to capture, the lens represents your film or sensor, the viewing angle of the lens represents the dynamic range of your film or sensor, and your aim represents exposure.


  • What It Means
    If you “expose for the shadows”, you’re choosing to preserve the low light region of your exposure. When you look at the histogram, you won’t see any clipping on the left side. Essentially, you’re shifting the light toward the highlights, thus making a brighter image.
  • How You Do It
    To shift your exposure for the shadows, you can use a slower shutter speed, decrease your f-number (aka increase your aperture size), and/or increase your medium sensitivity (aka ISO or film speed).
  • Positives
    This method preserves the detail in the dark regions of the image, so you won’t end up with pitch black pixels and you won’t lose texture detail in the dark regions.
  • Negatives
    While you maintain detail in the shadows, you also force less detail preservation in the highlights. You’ll end up with pure white pixels that no amount of Photoshop can bring back to life.
  • The Analogy
    Back to our beautiful mountain scene, you decided to point your camera to the left of center scene. You included the left-most edge of what you wanted to capture, but you had to leave out a chunk of the right edge.


  • What It Means
    If you “expose for the highlights”, you’re choosing to preserve the high intensity light region of your exposure. Looking at the histogram shows that there is no clipping on the right side. You’ve shifted the light toward the shadows, thus making a darker image.
  • How You Do It
    To shift your exposure for the highlights, you can use a faster shutter speed, increase your f-number, and/or decrease your medium sensitivity.
  • Positives
    Opposite from the last example, this method preserves the detail in the bright regions of the image. You won’t have any pure white pixels, and you’ll retain texture detail.
  • Negatives
    Keeping those puffy white clouds from blowing out has caused your shadows to be plummeted into darkness — pitch black. Just like with overblown highlights, you can’t bring them back with Photoshop.
  • The Analogy
    In the last example, you turned left. But in this example, you turned right. You decided to capture the right-most edge of the scene and let the left side get cropped out.


  • What It Means
    If you “expose for the mid-tones”, you’re choosing to exclude the high and low intensity light from your image. The histogram will reveal that the left and right side are clipped.
  • How You Do It
    The same methods apply from above to shutter speed, f-number, and ISO. You just shift up or down until you have a centered exposure.
  • Positives
    The shadows and highlights won’t be clipped as severely as in the previous two examples.
  • Negatives
    The shadows and highlights are both clipped, and you lose information on both sides of the spectrum. The image will contain pure black and pure white pixels at the same time (just in different spots).
  • The Analogy
    Rather than turning left or right, you decide to shoot right down the center of the scene. You lose a bit of scenery on both sides, but it’s not as severe.


  • What It Means
    Just because you can’t capture all the light values in one shot doesn’t mean that you can’t capture them. Taking multiple exposures by shooting for the highlights, shadows, and mid-tones will allow you to combine the information during post-processing via HDR imaging (High Dynamic Range). You effectively widen the dynamic range of the sensor or film by splitting it up into several shots.
  • How You Do It
    Use the same methods from above to get all the exposures you need in order to include the entire light intensity range. Just remember to use your tripod. The best method for shifting exposure is accomplished by varying your shutter speed — a change in f-number will effect your depth of field, and a change in ISO value will effect your noise levels.
  • Positives
    No clipping! You get the entire range of light.
  • Negatives
    It takes a bit of post-processing to achieve really good HDR results. When poorly done, it looks worse than blown out highlights. Even when done well, the resulting photo typically has an unnatural look and feel to it — but maybe tha’s what you’re going for.
  • The Analogy
    From your mountain peak, you decide that you want to capture the entire scene and you don’t want to leave anything out. So take two or three overlapping shots and use software to stitch them together as a panorama.


  • What It Means
    Rather than taking harsh lighting conditions as an impedance to your photography, use it to your advantage. Get creative.
  • How You Do It
    Check out Andrew’s articles on How to Take Great Photos at High Noon — he has some great tips.
  • Positives
    It’s fun and you get to enjoy yourself.
  • Negatives
    You have to use your brain.
  • The Analogy
    Get off your mountain peak and go take pictures of something else!


It means that you should have a basic understanding of how to control exposure and the effects of clipped histograms. Or maybe it means that you should have a battle plan for harsh lighting conditions. Or maybe it means that you should learn HDR techniques. Or maybe it means that you should learn to be more creative.

Or maybe it’s just information… now go take some pictures.

Quick Tip: Utilize That Auto-Exposure Lock

When using auto-exposure, the camera meters the light based on what it sees through the lens — typically at the center of the frame with either a single spot or some kind of broader footprint. The camera also auto-focuses through the lens, usually at center unless you tell it otherwise. This is fine and dandy for most situations, but I’m willing to bet that most of us have encountered a situation where you want your light reading taken from somewhere other than the center of the frame. You can recognize this situation when your photos turn out with extremely under-exposed or over-exposed portions, and it typically occurs during sunset photos or other high contrast situations.

One way to deal with this is to point the camera at the area you want to meter around and allow it to focus there, thus locking in the exposure. This usually works fine for the scenes where nearly everything is focused out to infinity, but if that’s not the case you’ll end up with a properly exposed photo that’s out of focus. The way to get around that is to point the camera at the area you want to meter and lock the auto-exposure — most SLRs have this feature, but some may be easier to use than others. Once you lock the exposure, you can focus on whatever you want and the exposure will stay the same until you unlock it. Now you have a photo that’s correctly exposed AND in-focus!

Read your camera manual if you’re not familiar with this feature, and give it a try.

Link Roundup 07-07-07

  • Mark Story Photography — Living In Three Centuries
    Amazing portrait photography project. A must see.
  • Fredrik Ödman Photography
    Amazingly screwed up and beautiful images.
  • How To Photograph Dragonflies @ Wonderful Photos
    Dragonflies are very photogenic and easily approachable once you understand their behavior. This article features an in-depth tutorial to shooting dragonflies and a collection of fantastic photos.
  • Photographic Lights And Lighting @ Food Photography Blog
    Lights are tools to be used by photographers to create their final products. There are many different kinds of lights, but this article deals with those light sources related to studio strobe lighting.
  • The Discipline Of Composing Full Frame @ Beyond The Obvious
    There’s an aesthetic discipline in photography which has all but dropped off the radar these days. It’s to make your composition in camera using the full available frame and keep that through to the final print without any cropping.
  • 5 Ways To Make Your Texture Photos Pop! @ Goldengod
    Highlighting an important photographic element such as lighting, composition, or subject matter can make your photo attract attention. One of the most commonly overlooked elements you can focus on is texture.

Trying My Hand At Lightning Photography

We had a little bit of a storm roll through North Idaho last night, so naturally my Dad and I got out on the front porch to try for some lightning shots. I really haven’t done any lightning photography with my dSLR, so I was pretty much winging it. The lightning passed too quickly to get any good shots, but I did learn a few things about lightning photography.

The first thing I learned was that your choice of lens is relatively important. I had my 10-20mm zoom on the camera, but it felt a little too wide for the scene I was shooting. I tried a few with my 105mm macro, but that felt a little too narrow. I would think that something around 35mm to 70mm would work well for most situations, though some scenes might work better with lenses below 35mm. The important thing is that you want to catch a big enough portion of the sky without going so wide that the lightning becomes a minor part of the photo.

Another important part of lightning photography is your choice of shutter speed and f-number. I was shooting 30 second exposures, but I might have gone as long as two or three minutes if I had a shutter release cable. 30 seconds wasn’t bad though, and it would work well if the lightning storm was fairly active. The other side to exposure is the choice of f-number. I tried a few different settings, but I seemed to get better results right around f/11. When I tried f/5.6 I ended up with an overexposed sky, and when I tried f/22 I ended up with dark skies and really weak bolts.

So next time I go out for lightning shots I’ll be using my 18-200mm zoom at 30+ second exposures around f/11. Maybe next time I’ll get a few keepers. The photo at the top of this post is the only one that was even worth working on, though it needed a lot of work (you can see the original here). The funny thing is that it was also my first shot taken — I basically spent the next half hour getting bad shots and learning how not to take lightning photos. By the time I started to figure it out, the storm was too far gone to get any more photos. Next time I suppose…

Indoor Macro Photography Project For Rainy Days

I mentioned yesterday that I got outside with my macro lens and shot some photos of the miniature daffodils in the backyard. Today I wanted to do some more, but it was raining outside and I didn’t feel like dealing with the water. So instead of going outside to take photos, I brought outside in with me.

I remembered an article a while ago at the Digital Photography School called Photographing Autumn Leaves – DIY Studio. I hadn’t tried it yet, so I thought today was a good opportunity. But instead of autumn leaves, I used spring blooms. I grabbed a few specimens of blooms from various sources and headed back inside to get my studio set up.

After cleaning both sides of a window, I taped my subjects to the glass and set up the tripod. I left the tripod legs at their shortest so I could get close to the window with my macro lens — actually, it was a sliding glass door so I could use the glass all the way down to the floor. We have some pine trees about 20 feet outside of the door, so they would provide a nice green backdrop for my shots.

I took about 60 shots by varying my angles and running through a bunch of different apertures. Why not? I was inside with my camera on a tripod and my subjects weren’t going anywhere! I ended up getting about 5 or 6 shots that I could really work with.

The photo below is one of the ones I processed today. I like it because of the colors and the back-lighting, which make the specimen somewhat translucent. It looks as if it were taken on a sunny day outdoors, but I assure you that it was done on a dark rainy day just as I described above. I also used an overlay blend with a Gaussian blur to give it a softer and more surreal look.

Photo of the Day…

Red Tree Blooms

Photo by Brian Auer
04/01/07 Flemington, NJ
Red Tree Blooms
Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D
Sigma MACRO 105mm f/2.8 EX DG
Kenko 25mm Extension Tube
158mm equiv * f/32 * 30s * ISO100

Night + Camera + Car = ART

If it’s dark outside, you have a camera, and you’re in a car, don’t make waste of your time — make art! I’ve got to give my Dad credit for this one, since he’s the one that mentioned it to me. Actually, he sent me a bunch of whacked-out pictures and made me try to guess how he took them. I got close, but not right on. So here are some of the shots he sent me:

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Making your own abstract light paintings is pretty simple, but you’ll need a few things: night, a car, a driver, and a camera that’s capable of long exposures. So you go out for a drive, set your camera for long exposure (4 seconds seemed to work nicely) at your lowest ISO, point your camera out one of the windows, and take a picture. Now that’s the basic part of it, but there are several ways to get creative here.

  1. Exposure times — lengthen for longer trails
  2. Apertures — stop down to make sharper light trails
  3. Focal lengths (I used wide, my Dad used telephoto) — or zoom while exposing
  4. Focus — blurry, sharp, random, or change during exposure
  5. Composition — bouncing, shaking, panning, and rotating are all allowed
  6. Lights — look for different colors, patterns, or blinking lights

This becomes an interesting experiment as you start to loosen up and forget about following any rules of photography — YOU’RE ALREADY MAKING BLURRY PICTURES, WHO CARES!!! EXPERIMENT!!! I’ve got to warn you though, it gets kind of addicting. This won’t be a problem if your driver doesn’t mind the constant clicking of the shutter — I ticked off my wife after about 45 minutes though. So next time you’re going out to dinner, take your camera and make somebody else drive. Here are some of my shots (all are untouched by editing software — just resized):

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