Lesson 8 – Lighting + Free Lighting Techniques for Photographers on a Budget

Life Through a Lens

I was not present lesson 8 as I had to go back to Adelaide for a few weeks for a friends wedding/Grandpa’s birthday/tie up loose ends/drive my car back up to Sydney..!

As such I missed three lessons, but the principles of which I am not entirely unfamiliar with, and so I will attempt to recreate some of the important elements, or add some alternatives of my own.

There are two types of lighting, natural and artificial. Natural light is of course light from the sun. It is free, warm and can give beautiful effects, particularly during what is known as ‘golden hour’ which is approximately the half–hour before and after both sunrise and sunset. The light hits the subject on a sideways angle and has a beautiful diffused glow, with soft shadows and a warm temperature.

However natural light can also be tricky in that it is unpredictable, uncontrollable, fleeting and sometimes very cruel to a photographic subject. The midday sun for example, is colder, creates harsh shadows and is usually very unflattering for portraits.

Artificial light can be either strobe/flash lighting or continuous lights (fluorescent/tungsten/LED’s) which can be manipulated in many ways, and is more reliable and controllable than natural light. It can be diffused, directed in different configurations towards the subject (e.g. 3–point lighting) for greater effect and can be combined with tools such as coloured gels and reflectors for greater effect.

Lighting setups can be infinitely varied, and can use any or all combinations of reflective, diffused, natural and artificial lighting to create lighting style which will vastly change the mood and effect of your photograph.

Using reflectors or an external flash, such as with a softbox or strategically placed speedlight will help to offset shadows, particularly when your subject is backlit. If you are a student, hobbyist or just do not have much of a budget for photography gizmos, there are other techniques you can use to reflect or diffuse light onto your subject. Luckily, through experimentation, trial and error and sometimes pure accident, this is something I have had some experience in:


  1. Use your surroundings as a reflector. The sunlight that was reflected onto Teya from the road was enough to offset the bright mid–afternoon sun and get a lovely back–lit shot of her dancing without leaving her face obscured in shadow.


2. Use a mirror to reflect light. This shot was taken using a 55–200mm lens, and a small hand held mirror to reflect light onto the subject, in this case a spider who was repairing her inconveniently–placed web, which I had put my head through a couple of times already. I have had much success with this technique when doing close ups such as in rain drop photography, but be aware that if your subject is living such as this one, that the heat and light you are reflecting will get very uncomfortable after a while, so limit the time you use it and have a spray bottle handy. (Plus droplets look good on the web!)

DSC_0257-girls-portrairt3. Use everyday objects to diffuse light and create interesting patterns in shadows.  Although it looks as though the girls are sitting by a window, in actual fact I got this effect by hanging, of all things, a woven welcome mat in front of a studio light and placing it at a distance from the subject. This effect can be wonderful when using things like lattice, mesh and other die–cut objects.


Taken using my old home made cardboard light tent and both natural and artificial light (sunlight from a window and two lamps)


Taking using a studio light tent

4. Make your own DIY light tent for product/macro photography. Link to instructions here


Taken without DIY reflector


Taken with DIY reflector

5. Create your own DIY reflector. By using a sheet of card or similar thick, flexible material covered with a reflective material such as white paper, aluminium foil covered with baking paper, or as pictured above, a car windshield sun protector, you can make your own reflector at home for nothing.


6. Utilise your angles By lying down on the ground and shooting up at Melanie, I was able to get her hair to be highlighted dramatically with the coloured light behind her.

For flash photography, I always carry a business card, and some baking paper and a rubber band in my kit. Why? If you do not have/cannot afford a speedlight and find yourself in a situation where you have no choice but to use your camera’s in–built flash, you will want to offset that sucker somehow or get ugly, washed out photos. First of all, do not forget that you can manually reduce your cameras flash in the settings by 1/2, all the way to 1/16 of the strength and no doubt beyond on some cameras. (But not mine!)

By propping a business card up in front of the flash you can bounce it up onto a ceiling or a wall, so that it is a reduced and diffused light that reflects onto your subject. Note: This does take some experimentation to get it right so don’t give up if it does not work first time.

By wrapping a small amount of baking paper, tissue paper or the like around your built in flash and securing it with a rubber band it will diffuse the light and so that your subject does not look as washed out. Note: This technique works best when you have at least one other light source on a different angle, and your flash is dialled right down. I also use this technique when doing DIY lighting setups at home using portable lamps and similar.

Of course every designer and photographer’s best friend is Adobe Photoshop. By using camera RAW and other settings you can dramatically enhance photos and reduce or increase the shadows, lighting angles and more.

A wonderful free plug–in that is a great asset to any photographer is the Nik colour eFex 4 plug–in. This is a FREE resource and I highly recommend it to my fellow students and other readers looking to improve their photographs. Get it here.


“SPLASH” Water photography Life Through a Lens – Assessment 1

Life Through a Lens