When you set out to take photos, you can’t always control the type of lighting you may encounter. Having an understanding of the common types of lighting in photography and how to address them can lead to taking much better photos.
1. Bright daylight
It’s midday and there’s not a cloud in the sky. This results in very bright light. In this situation, set your ISO to the lowest it will go, which is typically ISO 100. Now set your f-stop high, at least f/8 if not f/11 or even higher. Your camera is now set to accept a lot of light.
A high f-stop results in a deep depth of field. If you’d like to reduce the f-stop and decrease the depth of field, then you may find you are letting in too much light and your camera’s shutter speed may not be fast enough to compensate. In this case, you could use a neutral density filter, which acts like sunglasses for your lens without affecting the tone.
The photo above was shot in bright daylight. Because I wanted to blur the background, I shot this at f/1.4, which was letting way too much light into the camera. To compensate, I used a neutral density filter.
2. Overcast light
Now suppose it’s midday but the sky is filled with clouds. This provides for a softer lighting situation, and you will need to adjust your camera accordingly. As the lighting won’t be as bright, you should increase your ISO to around 400. You should also lower your f-stop a bit, say to around f/5.6. This should now let enough light into your camera.
In these lighting conditions, contrast is low. Because of this, you may want to do a little work while post processing to increase both contrast and saturation. In conditions like this, you may want to focus on smaller details rather than larger scenes, as larger scenes may be left looking a little flat.
The above photo was shot in overcast, rainy conditions. In post-processing, I increased contrast and saturation to bring a bit more life to the scene. I did keep it a little dark, as I wanted to retain some sense of the weather conditions.
3. Low light
Low lighting situations occur around dusk and dawn or sunrise and sunset. These times may require modifying your settings while shooting as light either increases (dawn or sunrise) or decreases (dusk or sunset). In either case, you are going to want to raise your ISO to at least 800 at the darkest times and lower your f-stop quite a bit, say to around f/2.8.
The photo above was shot at dusk. I wanted to shoot handheld, so I increased my ISO to 1600 and lowered my f-stop to f/2.0, giving me a shutter speed of 1/80 of a second. Of course, if you’d like to lower your ISO or raise your f-stop, then you can use a tripod to accommodate slower shutter speeds. Keep in mind, though, that slower shutter speeds can introduce unwanted motion in your shot.
Backlighting occurs when the sun is behind your subject. This is one of the trickiest of lighting situations. If you meter on your subject in the foreground, your background can be blown out. If you meter on the background, your subject will become silhouetted. The ideal is to meter in both areas and then average your settings. Of course, a blown-out background or a silhouette may be what you’re looking for, in which case there is no need to average.
You could also try this artistic trick involving backlighting: If the sun is visible behind your subject (which could be a person, building or even a branch), position it just behind your subject.
This will allow the background and foreground to be more balanced and can cause a slight halo to be formed around where you positioned the sun. Do be careful when attempting this, as lens flares can occur, which you won’t necessarily see in your viewfinder or on your LCD display.