Photo of Alan Thornton

The Essentials for Understanding Light

with Alan Thornton
The Essentials for Understanding Light
Learn basic lighting principles to confidently photograph any subject, anywhere!

Unlock the keys to masterfully lit photos as Santa Fe Photographic Workshops instructor Alan Thornton guides you through the one element every great photograph has in common: light. Delve into the characteristics of natural and artificial light and find out how to create a compelling image no matter the light source. Explore direct, diffused and bounced light, and discover which is best for flattering portraits or high-contrast, dramatic images. Learn how to shoot with back, front and side lighting, and dive into essential exposure and metering guidelines. Follow along with Alan in an inspiring lesson on finding good light anywhere and discover the affordable gear that will help you create and modify beautiful light.

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Lesson plan


Lesson 1. Importance of Light

  • Meet your instructor, renowned photographer Alan Thornton, as he teaches you how to find and assess light. Then, Alan discusses the gear you need to capture and utilize light in your own photos. (Hint: It’s not much; the light is the star of this show!)


Lesson 2. Light Creators

  • Explore where light comes from and how natural light changes color throughout the day or with the weather. Learn to identify sources of light and how to use your camera’s white balance setting to compensate for different kinds of light.


Lesson 3. Types of Light

  • Alan shares his trick for identifying the direction of light before leading an in-depth discussion on several types of light: direct, diffused and bounced. Follow along on a photo shoot as Alan demonstrates how each type of light affects the image.


Lesson 4. Direction of Light

  • Discover the relationship between light direction and composition. Alan uses a studio portrait session to illustrate how the source of your light can dramatically affect the quality of your photos. Explore how an image changes when you compose it with an overhead light, backlight, sidelight or front light.


Lesson 5. Light & Your Camera

  • Gain a new understanding of the exposure triangle and how your camera reads light as you delve into light metering and the methods you can use to capture the scene you see in front of you. Learn about the different metering modes available and how to compensate when your camera’s settings lead you astray. Finally, Alan will share his tips and tricks for adjusting your settings to match what your eye sees.


Lesson 6. Finding Great Light

  • Whether you’re shooting indoors or out, Alan will show you that great light is all around. Discover how to read the light in a room and compose your photos to get the illumination you want. Then, venture outdoors with Alan as he demonstrates how to move yourself — and your subject — to capture a variety of moods and compositions and observe how light changes throughout the day and affects your photos.


Lesson 7. Create Your Own Light

  • In your final lesson, examine what you can do when you have little to no light or want to better control the light you have. Alan discusses several types of light creators: camera flashes, speedlights and even strobes. Then see the difference they make as Alan takes portraits using a simple flash and shows you how to bounce the light off a wall using an on-camera speedlight. Take your portraits to the next level with simple tools like bounce cards to add soft, flattering fill light.

"Brilliant. Easy to understand with properly explained concepts."
avatar - Tunji

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  • Answers from Alan in our virtual classroom
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