Bright, even lighting

Lighting can make or break a photo, but you don’t need expensive photography equipment to make sure your photos are well-lit.

What does bad lighting do?

Bad lighting can:

  • Engulf people and things in shadow.
  • Blow out details or entire sections of the photo in highlight.
  • Make it difficult to tell what the photo is of if it’s too dark.
  • Increase the chance of noise (grain) in your photos.
  • Increase the chance your photo won’t be in focus.
  • Create unbalanced, unattractive photos.

Examples of bad lighting and ways to fix it

A few easy ways to fix bad lighting are:

  • Go outside, where the light is bright and more even than inside. But don’t stand in the bright sunlight – find some shade or shoot on a partly cloudy day.
  • Photograph your subject against an evenly-lit blank or subtly-textured wall or another surface.
  • Turn on more lights if indoors, and make sure the same amount of light is on both sides of the subject.
  • Don’t photograph indoors facing bright windows. Especially don’t have your subject stand or sit in front of the windows.
  • Use a flash if it’s too dark.
Example 1

A woman standing in a space that is partially in shadow and partially blown out by highlights

The photo above has very uneven lighting, and it makes the photo unbalanced and unattractive. It also suffers from a lack of focus and poor composition.

Ways to fix this photo
  • Move closer to the subject – this would eliminate the dark and bright rooms as well as the lighting issues.
  • Turn off the lights in the room on the right – this would make the lighting more even across the photo and allow the camera to choose a better exposure. This way, the shadows also wouldn’t be so dark.
  • Don’t place the subject in front of a reflective surface (the framed picture in this case) – the reflection creates a bright, unappealing highlight right next to her face.
    • Instead, have her stand in front of an evenly-lit blank wall, or go outside.
Example 2

A group of students talking in a poorly-lit room
In the photo above, the room is poorly-lit – it looks like the lights in the room are off and all the light is coming from the windows.

Ways to fix this photo
  • Turn on the lights! This might also help the white balance in the photo, which is quite blue.
  • Photograph the students with your back to the window – this way the light would be more even and bright, rather than all coming from one side.
Other photos with windows that are too bright

Room that is blown out because the window is so bright

Three women sitting next to a blown-out highlighted window