Seeing the Light – Why It’s All About Light For Photography

There are two sentences that I hear more than any other when out working. “That’s some camera. I bet it takes great photographs.”

Well, yes it does, but only because I tell it what to do.

You see, the thing that distinguishes a photographer from a non-photographer is that we understand that the camera is one of the least important bits involved in making a great image.

First of all, it’s about the light.

When a professional photographer like me walks into a room, the first thing we do is look at the light; at where it is falling and whether it’s any good (we call it the quality of light). Because not all light is good for photos, and understanding that is probably the biggest single thing you can do to make your photos look better.

Very harsh sunlight, for instance, is not good. If you’re standing outside squinting because it’s so bright, then that light is no good for making a good photo. Neither is the harsh light in most offices – fluorescent, halogen and tungsten lighting doesn’t really create flattering light for people. It shines straight down, creating big shadows under the eyes, and is usually a pretty terrible colour too. And please don’t try to use the pop-up flash on your camera, or the flash on your camera phone, because that’s hard and unflattering too.


If you want to create a flattering, pleasing portrait of someone, put them in soft light. If it’s an overcast day (and we get more than our fair share of those in the North West), step outside. The shadows are soft, the light is kind, and it’s much easier to get a decent shot of someone.

If it’s a bright sunny day, try going outside and standing on the north side of the building. In the Northern hemisphere, that’s the side of a building that faces away from the sun and is the shadiest. Or if you’re indoors, try standing near a window. Not directly next to it, but a few feet back, so the gentle light falls on the subject’s face, but they’re not squinting in the direct sunshine.

Windowlight portraits are some of the best, and I often place a subject in a window even if I’ve brought thousands of pounds of expensive lighting gear with me. After all, it was good enough for Rembrandt, and he knew a thing or three about making great looking portraits!

There are plenty of examples of portraits using great lighting on my blog, so please feel free to have a browse.

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About the Author

Alex McCann

Alex McCann runs Altrincham HQ - a Social Media Marketing company with 100+ recommendations on Linkedin and ranked Number 1 for Social Media Marketing in the UK on Freeindex

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