Photography Lighting 101 - Learn Blog Photography

Photography Lighting 101

By Amy

Jun 12

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Photography Lighting 101

Struggling with photography lighting?  

Many people have told me that their biggest photography related struggle is lighting.  

Lighting is complicated, I get it. 

I struggled with lighting for awhile too.  

Unfortunately, lighting isn’t something you just grasp the first day… not unless you’re some photography prodigy…but then you probably wouldn’t be surfing the web trying to learn it!  Your brilliant ass would be out there creating photographic masterpieces!

Anyhoo, I digress….

Oh, yeah! I was saying there’s a lot to learn! So, I’ve decided to cut up my ramblings into a mini-blog-series.

Is that a thing?!

It is now!

Let’s start with why.  Why is lighting important?

Lighting is only 1 of the most important…make or break…elements in photography!!!


Take any set up, any subject, any anything….if you take it with bad lighting; there is no epic photo.  

Don’t get me wrong, you have a photo, but what you get is any old snapshot Joe Sh-mo could’ve done.

We want GREAT, EPIC photos!

We want make the person stop scrolling…pull back and be WOW’d by the photo we post!

Photos grab people’s attention and let’s hope it’s to say DAMN! That photo ROCKS!!

…but hey…maybe you want to be that person that stands out for crappy pics and that’s cool too.  If so, stop here and now…and go check out someone else’s site cuz we don’t mesh.   

I guess I’ve rambled here without giving anything more than chirping in your ear, so let’s bust this out today.

Why do we NEED light?

  • We need light to see.
  • We need light to add interest.
  • We need light to create depth.
  • We need light to set the mood.
  • We need light to create…period.

Without light all we have is blackness and pure black is a boring photo…

Light can be described in several ways…or let’s say light has several qualities.


Qualities of Light:

  • Light has temperature.
  • Light has harshness
  • Light has direction
  • Light has fall off
  • Light has rules

(Will you find these “qualities” listed in any physics textbook? No, well maybe some of them, but this is my take on what I’ve learned 😉 )


Light has temperature:

Yes, if you touch a light bulb you’ll feel heat, but what I’m talking about is actually whether the light gives off a warm or cool color temperature.  

Think about it…

The color of light appears to be more orangish or warm at sunrise and sunset, right?

Normally, our eyes adjust to the color of the light and we don’t pay much attention to it.

However, a camera can’t ignore the changes in light without correcting for it in camera.  

If you have a fancy DSLR, you’ve probably noticed this button.  

It’s the button usually with the letter “WB”, which stands for white balance.  

Your camera, even camera phones tends to do a pretty good job of setting a good white balance, but occasionally it will still need a little tweaking in post processing.


To get more techy for ya, the temperature of light is rated in Kelvin (K).

Colors over 5000K are cool or a more bluish white light.

Colors from 2700-3000K are warm or a more yellowish white light and can even extend to red.

Think of how orangy/red candle pictures look…Well they’re rated at 1900K

lighting 101


This photo is set to 5000K, which is daylight balanced and what we are used to seeing as natural.

lighting 101


If you’re looking for a breakdown of the specific lightbulbs and their Kelvin rating, or what color temperature midday and sunset are…I’ve created a FREE cheat sheet for you.  Get it here!

You may be asking, why do I care?

Well, do you know what color temp your lights give off in your creative space?

Are you thinking about adding additional lighting to your photos, or do you plan to limit lighting to available light?

These are important questions you need to answer!

Hey, if you want to limit yourself to natural, available light…more power to you!!

But, if you want to be able to take great photos regardless of the time of day and location, then keep reading!!

By adding light with your regular CFL or incandescent (aka, the lightbulb you grew up using) lightbulb to a natural light setup…it WILL look jacked up, and will NOT be easy to edit in post processing…unless you go with a black and white image. (Holy run on sentence Batman!!…HA!)

It is valuable to know that the temperature of light changes based on the conditions and knowing the color temperature of your lighting equipment, and the color of the natural light source will make editing your photos significantly easier, will save you time and frustration, and will look FAR better!!

Lighting 101

See the color difference between the bluish/white of a daylight balanced bulb at 5500K on the left, and the yellowish light of the approximately 2400K Edison bulb on the right?

Just look at the color difference above.

If the bulb on the left is similar to daylight and you add that to your window light setup, your editing will be much easier than if you add the bulb on the right to the mix. YIKES, that your be a nightmare to edit!

I know there’s A LOT to learn with lighting and we are only brushing the surface, so I created a quick cheat sheet that you can download so you don’t have to remember the color temperatures.


Get your FREE Lighting Color Temp Sheet HERE!


Getting back to additional light bulbs for your setup…

You probably never paid much attention to the light bulbs you’ve purchased.  

You may have even seen the rating for color temp and didn’t give it much thought.

Well next time you’re at the store, take a peek at what the lighting temp is on your favorite brand of light bulbs and see how they compare.

Look for daylight balanced light bulbs.  

Daylight balanced lighting ranges from 5000-6500K, with the highest number being more of a bluish light and may not be exactly what you’re wanting.

You may be able to find some daylight balanced light bulbs at your local hardware store.

I’ve found it’s much easier to find them on  

I *heart* Amazon!!

The bonus for Amazon is that  you can read reviews and find out which ones actually perform the best! (and you don’t have to leave your house to go shopping!!)

One great tip I learned by reading reviews, was that you will shorten the lifespan of your CFL by turning them on and off without leaving them on for an extended period of time in between.

Who’d a thunk it?!

Not me!!

Anyways, I purchased the ALZO 45W Joyous Light Full Spectrum CFL light bulb after reading the reviews and let me say…

DAMN!  It’s HUGE!!

I plan to use it in a future setup and will come back here and report on how well I feel it performs.

So don’t forget to check back!

Ok, if you’re still with me…THANKS!!

I feel like I have so much more to say, but will spare you eyeballs for now.

Just remember…

Stick to 1 color temperature…unless you’re going for a styled look, then HEY!

Experiment away!

If you’re looking to totally change up the light’s colors, there are color Gels (typically, no they are not a gel consistency.  Think old school, overhead screen projectors’ transparency sheets but in different colors) that go over a flash and change the color all together!

We are talking advanced techniques here, so we can revisit this at a later date.  
Let’s keep to the nitty gritty to start with!



Other great nuggets of wisdom you may have missed!

Learn how to take photos with blurry backgrounds

Understanding ISO: The Basics

Understanding Shutter Speed: The Basics

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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!