Photography lighting basics

Three-point lighting is the basis of beginner’s photography lighting. It involves key (main), fill and back lighting.


  • This is usually a white sheet to create a blank canvas behind the subject to reflect light well. Light shining on to the background helps to reduce shadows behind the model/focus.

Main/ key lighting photography-lighting-basics

  • Main lighting is the brightest light used for form and shape.
  • On it’s own, it creates a lot of dark shadows on the face.
  • Soft boxes are a pair of white squares of translucent fabric over lamps to provide soft, diffused, main light over the subject.
  • It is usually put into place first and at a 45 degree angle to the camera

Fill lighting

  • Fill lighting creates lighter parts on shadows created by the key light.
  • It is a little less bright than key lighting. It can shine through an umbrella.
  • Both key and fill together are best for school and basic portrait photos
  • It is usually placed on the opposite side of the camera to the key light

Back light

  • This light separates the head from the background. photography-lighting
  • For the best effect hide the light off camera.
  • Back light adds colour and texture to pictures.
  • It gives a lovely effect behind the subject and best pointed down at 45 degree angle

Lighting extras

Bounce light: this light can reflect light into dark areas, such as under the chin, and can be held by an assistant. It is an alternative to using fill lights. Reflectors or white foam boards can be used for this.

Umbrellas: these help the flash to be less harsh on the face. They create a nice soft light.

Overhead lighting: provides the effect of direct sunlight above the head. This can be expensive sometimes

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