Lights Can Make or Break Your Photos

By Amy

Mar 22

Lights matter

The lights you use are quite scratch that...are almost always more important that the camera you use.  


Most cameras made within the past couple years have excellent quality, yes, even cellphones.

So, the element holding your photos back is probably your lights!​

photography lights

Lights! Camera! Action!!...or Snap

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Lights:  The Good. The Bad. The Ugly

Today I am going to show you the same photo taken with hard light and soft light.

We talked about this before, but today I am going to show you a real world example.

I am going to take two photos and I will show you the setup and the difference between the results you get when you use light that has been modified which creates a soft light; and when you use hard light, meaning just a bare light bulb.

photography lights

The Setup

The overall setup is pretty simple, with the two constant lights, one on either side. Mostly so that I can evenly light the scene and the other is because neither is bright enough to do a good job on its own.

I have all the lights on including the two lights on my ceiling fan which are completely unmodified meaning that it’s just the bare bulb, nothing to diffuse it to make this light soft.

Meaning you’re not going to get that gradual transition from highlights to shadows.

You are just going to have an abrupt transition that will give you that very distinct shadow which you really don’t want.

Modified Lights = Soft Light

So now I kind of have a bird's eye view of the scene here and I will tip it up and you will see that I have the constant light from here. And tip it the other way and you will see I have the other light over there.

If I come down closer and you can see that as I move from left to right, you can see its shadow on that book but it’s kind of gradual.

photography lights

The shadows are not very sharp; they’re kind of a gradual transition.

Now let’s change the light so you can see the difference.

So now I have just adjusted the lights.

I have turned off my photography lights.

photography lights

Bare Bulbs = Hard Light

All I have on is my overhead ceiling fan with the two light bulbs that I showed you earlier. The light bulbs that I am using, and I will show you what the difference is.

See how the lights come from different angles, but look at how you get that hard bright, hot spot, from those lights overhead, that is because that light is not spread out and it’s a very hard direct light.

Also, you can see the difference, it’s spread out a little bit, but that shadow underneath that monitor is pretty distinct and even more so when I get down here.

For example, look at the shadow on my hand, it's has the two shadows because of the two separate light bulbs, but it’s very distinct on one.

The other one is much softer, more spread out, not as distinct because it’s coming through part of the frosted glass.

So that is why you have it much more direct and hard and the other one is a little bit softer.

Photography lights

Underneath that little tab, there is a very hard shadow, right there. It’s not spread out at all and it comes down just like the tab itself and it's not spread out at all.

If we were to take this picture, at best if we’re lucky, it would come out like a simple snapshot, but it’s not that great at all.

Stop using regular lightbulbs and expecting to get professional looking photos!!

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So I have gone back to the photography lights, the constant lights that I have.

I want to show you the difference and the computer mouse in the middle basically for size comparison.

The bulb on the left is a CFL bulb, the one on the right is the LED bulb.

Within the last couple months learned that they are getting away with CFL bulbs because they contain mercury and that is something you don’t want in your home especially if bulb were to break.

So I don’t know how much longer they will be producing, or maybe they already stopped producing the CFL bulbs.

I have a couple, but I ended up getting some of these LED lights just to see how well they worked.

The wattage on this LED is 16W which is equivalent to a 60W bulb. Whereas this one is 45W and still felt like the LED bulb was not quite as bright.

Although they are daylight balanced and this LED bulb was the one that I had in the overhead lighting.

Again, no matter what light you use if it’s daylight balanced or not, it still needs to be modified.

Meaning the light needs to pass through something to spread it out so it doesn’t give you those very distinct harsh shadows which is just going to be very typical of a snapshot.

You're not going to get a great portrait with hard light unless it’s something really edgy and and that’s the look you’re going for.

When most people think of photos and professional photos, hard light is not the light that you typically use to achieve that look.

That is all I have for you this week.

If you have questions you would like answered, please hit me up in the private club Learn Blog Photography Facebook group or contact me through the contact me page and I would be happy to answer your question on a blog post or a video.

Thank you! Happy snapping

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Article Name
Lights Can Make or Break Your Photos
The lights you use can make or break your photos. Do you know what type of lighting is best for professional quality photos? Read on to find out.
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Learn Blog Photography
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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!