Our guide to studio lighting
Hotcourses Editor

Our guide to studio lighting

First published date February 11 2014 Amended date February 11 2014

Mastering studio lighting is an important step for anyone who already works in photography or film or if you're aspiring to. We aren't really ever consciously aware of light, unless it is obstructive, like when the sun is in your eyes – it's just there, doing what it does. Being able to really notice light and understand it's intensity, it's temperature, and direction will be the foundation for any course in lighting. The basics mastered, finding out what equipment is available, how to use it and when and what type of results different approaches to lighting have on a subject are just a few of the lessons a course in studio lighting will teach you. Lighting is often described as the single most important thing in any photography setting and working out how to manipulate light in a studio means that you can apply the same logic when shooting outdoors.


Back, side and frontal lighting

These are just some of the terms you’ll begin to understand when taking a studio lighting course and be able to put into practice, but for now let's uncover the basics of what each of them means, so you can start at the top of the class:

Back lighting – back lighting adds depth and drama to photos and is often used in portraiture. This creates a sense of separation from the background and the subject. Using a really strong backlight has the potential to create strong-silhouetted images.

Side lighting – Side lighting emphasises textures and patterns and can be used effectively to capture emotion. One side of the image will be in shadow whilst the other is lit creating contrast and a strong sense of the subject's shape and form.

Frontal lighting – Frontal lighting evenly illuminates the subject masking any shadows, the lighting appears flat. This can often make the shape of a subject more ambiguous and less defined making it seem more two-dimensional. The key to good frontal images lies in the ability of the photographer to control the starkness vs. the softness of the light.



Do you know what a Snoot is? Well, let's leave that be for now but with a comprehensive studio lighting course you'll be able to get to grips with common equipment used across the industry both in home and professional studios. You can find a long list of available equipment in any studio lighting stockists and it's well worth having a trawl through to see the host of stuff available to play with – everything ranging from reflectors, honeycombs, lens hoods, flash guns, diffusers through to strobes (sounds a little like if a hair salon were to meet a nightclub!).  All of this equipment has a specific task to do and can achieve different effects in the final image. Learning how to use key pieces of equipment will open up a whole world of possibility with your photography and allow you to create professional quality images. Strobe Lights for example have the same colour as daylight and act as a hard flash (a very quick burst of light, a 1/1000th or as short as 1/50000th of a second in fact), the quickness means that they are able to capture moving subjects in high definition and have the ability to be placed and angled however you want, unlike the camera’s built-in flash which is stuck to the angle of your camera lens. The light from a strobe defines texture and shape and as such it can be quite harsh, so a couple of gadgets that photographers use to smooth out the light and spread it more evenly are umbrellas or softboxes. These broaden the light; and the broader the light the softer it appears.


Get creative

Observe light in everyday life – notice how it falls and whether you'd define it as side or back lit. Spend some real time experimenting with what different angles and intensities can do and how they change the mood of an image. Think creatively whist shooting and compare results before heading to an editing suite. With any luck you'll have Beyoncé or Prince William in your studio not long after completing your studio lighting course!


By Sarah Butcher