When it comes to digital photography lighting plays an important role. Learn how to use it to your advantage in this lesson.

Outdoor photos

If you're taking photos outdoors during the daytime, your main source of light will usually be the sun. Depending on the time of day and the weather, the sun can give your photos a variety of "looks." Of course, good photo moments can happen at any time of day, so you may not be able to wait for the perfect light. If you are aware of how the light can affect your photos, you'll be able to make adjustments to get the best results.

High-contrast situations

On bright, sunny days, having the sun behind your subject can cause the subject to look too dark. That's because the contrast is too high for your camera to capture accurately, so it adjusts the exposure to darken the entire photo. If this happens, try to find an angle where the background isn't as bright.

A photo with the sun behind the subjectsA photo with the sun behind the subjects
A photo with the sun to the side of the subjectsA photo with the sun to the side of the subjects

Many photographers actually use their flash on sunny days to reduce unwanted shadows. This is known as fill flash because it "fills in" the shadows with additional light. You should only use fill flash when you notice problematic shadows; in other situations, flash may make the photo look worse.

The golden hour

Many photographers find that their photos look best when taken just before the sun sets, or just after it rises. This is commonly known as the "golden hour". Since the sun is lower in the sky, it creates longer, softer shadows. These shadows can add contrast to your photos while still giving them a soft, pleasant appearance. In addition, the sunlight has a more golden color, which adds warmth to your photos.

In the photo below, the subject's face has highlights and shadows, but they're not too harsh.

The "golden hour"The "golden hour"


Around the middle of the day, the sun is higher in the sky, so it will shine down on your subject. This can create dark shadows and bright highlights, which can give your photos a harsher appearance. If you are taking photos of people, their eyes may be completely in shadow. Sometimes, you may be able to reduce these shadows by turning on your camera's flash, although this won't work if your subject is too far away. You can also ask your subject to face a different way to try to reduce the shadows.

In the photo below, you can see bright highlights on the subject's forehead, while her eyes and mouth are mostly shadowed.


Cloudy weather and twilight

The softest light occurs when the sun is covered by clouds, or when it's just below the horizon. Because the light is soft, your camera will be able to pick up details that may have otherwise been covered by shadows. This can also be a very good time to photograph flowers and other colorful objects.

In the photo below, the lighting on the subject's face is very even, with no harsh highlights or dark shadows.

Cloudy weatherCloudy weather