Directional Lighting - Learn Blog Photography

Directional Lighting

By Amy

Jun 29

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directional lighting

Directional Lighting

Are you loving the pictures you’re creating?  


What may be missing the the secret sauce?

Yep, you read that right…the secret sauce!

What’s that?

That my friends, is good lighting…specifically directional lighting.

If you’ve read some of the other posts on lighting, you know there are other key factors to lighting such as the harshness of light and the light’s color temperature.


Directional lighting refers to the angle at which the light falls across the subject.

Directional lighting can be either hard light or soft light, and it can be any color temperature.

Directional lighting can be from any type of light source.


Directional lighting creates depth and interest through highlights and shadows.

When you have light that comes directly from the front, everything is lit evenly and you lose the highlights and shadows that create character and make is more visually appealing.

Do you want dull, flat and visually boring photos?

I sure hope the answer was “HELL NO!”  

Ok, then…let’s make sure your pictures are visual gems that are unforgettable by avoiding some common mistakes.


#1.  Using your camera’s built in flash.

Then why is it there you ask?

The built in flash, serves a purpose by lighting the scene so a picture can be created; however, this is for those who’re not in the know.

Remember…without light there is no photo, but that creates flat light and quite often harsh light as well.

Most people know that a professional photographer takes better photos, but what they don’t realize is that it’s the lighting that makes the professional’s photo pop, yet their own photo of the exact same scene just a snapshot.  

BUT! It’s not just the directional lighting that makes the photographer’s photos so great…

That’s why you need to read ALL of my posts on lighting so you can master lighting and start taking fabulous photos yourself!

Ok, I digress…

#2.  Adding on camera flash to your DSLR’s hot shoe.

(What’s a hot shoe?

It’s the attachment site on the top of a DSLR that connects a speedlight or other device to the camera.)

directional lighting

Hot Shoe Attachment on a Nikon D7100

Ever watch a professional work?

The photographer almost never has the additional light source directly on his camera.  

(…and if he/she does there’s a modifier on it.)

Maybe you’ve seen that contraption that pulls the light just off to the side, but either way…it is not directly on top of the camera, and that was done intentionally for better, directional lighting!


Are you ready for this?

It’s SUPER tricky…

Put your lighting setup off to the side and on an angle.

Typically at a 45 degree angle works well and WAH-LA!… you’ve created directional lighting.  Directional lighting will fall across the subject or object and will create the highlights on the light side and the shadows on the opposite side.  

Going off of what we already learned about hard light and soft light if the light has a quick transition from highlight to shadow then that is hard light.  

photography tips bloggers

Hard Light

If the transition is more subtle and gradual, this would be described as soft light.  

soft light

soft light from window light



Let’s keep it easy-peezy to begin with.

Simply start by having your set up near a window that will have plenty of indirect light.  

Indirect light is when light is coming in, but you don’t have the harsh bright light beating in on your subjects.

Ever have a dog?

I did, and I can remember they LOVED lying in the bright direct sunlight; like they were sunbathing. LOL!

Ok, direct light is great for sunbathing, human or beast, but NOT great for photos.

So nows the time to start paying attention to the light you get throughout the day in your windows.

It can change pretty quickly, so check it out periodically throughout a day and see what’s best.

Moving right along…

Let’s say you found a time of day with fabulous indirect lighting…

Now, try setting up a table near the window or even the sliding glass door.  

This doesn’t have to be a photo you’ll end up using…remember we need to practice!!

Anyways, put anything on the table as your subject.  You could even use your kid’s teddy bear, or even better…have your kid as a model.

For me it’s easier to just put stuff on the ground, but do what’s easiest for you!

Now, take these photos:

  1. Window light behind the subject.


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Window directly behind

directional lighting

Window directly behind

2.  Window directly in front of the subject.

directional lighting

Window directly in front

directional lighting

Window in front

3. Window off to the side and to an angle.

directional lighting

Window on an angle

directional lighting

Window on an angle

4. Window directly to the side.  Left or right doesn’t matter.

directional lighting

Window directly to the side

directional lighting

Window directly to the side

Keep in mind all of these photos are unedited so you can see how exactly they turned out.

Do you see how the highlights and shadows change based on the direction of the light source?  

Next, try putting an actual set up in there for your business and shoot again.  

Remember to change your perspective.  

How we normally look at something isn’t very interesting.  

Instead get low, get high, get above and look down, etc.  

Try many different set ups, angles, lighting angles, etc and then post your favorite picture in the comments section below.  

I’d love to see what you’ve come up with!

Want more great info on lighting? Check out these posts…

Photography lighting 101…all about color temperature and why it’s good to know.

Want to know why professional lighting looks better than your snapshot…find out here.

or how about 10 Tips for better iPhone photos

Better yet, come join our FREE Facebook Group and get more fantastic tips, advice and support!


Do you want to take your photos to the next level and add lighting equipment? Are you unsure of what to get? Check out this FREE download with recommendations based on gear I’ve used and trust!

Download your FREE Lighting Equipment Buyers Guide here!

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About the Author

Amy is the owner extraordinaire at Learn Blog Photography and Amy Paris Photography. She's a single mom to an amazing teenage son. She's passionate about photography and skiing (downhill), the faster the better! Sign up for a FREE 30-min call to light up your photos & biz!