Photographic Lighting

Learn how to use light in photography. Gain an understanding of sensiometry, sources of light, filters, manipulating light and how they influence the image.

Course CodeBPH204
Fee CodeS2
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

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Lighting is fundamental to good photography - it is the major and most important element.

In order to take great photos you need to understand light and its properties.


  • To learn how to correctly use light in photography
  • To Learn about the most important element in photography - Light!
  • To learn how to manipulate light and your camera settings in order to take better photos.
  • To become a better photographer - whether a hobby or a job.


  • Photo enthusiasts
  • Serious students of photography
  • People working in the industry, seeking to build a better understanding of light and lighting techniques.



Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Light Characteristics and Lighting Concepts
    • Intensity
    • Colour Temperature
    • Incident or Reflected Light
    • Exposure Readings
    • Light Management
    • Planning Ideas
    • Learn from experience
    • Adjusting light for digital or choosing film
    • Curves
  2. Understanding Sensiometry & the Zone System
    • Sensiometry
    • The Subject
    • Blackness of Image
    • Transmission
    • Opacity
    • Density
    • Scatter
    • Callier Coefficient
    • Characteristic Curve
    • The Zone System
    • Using the Zone System
    • Controlling Contrast
    • Equipment and Film
    • Exposing shadows
    • Processing Highlights
  3. Light Sources
    • Natural and Artificial Light Sources
    • Properties of Light Sources
    • Copy Lighting
    • Flash Photography
    • Electronic Flash (Manual, Computer, Dedicated)
    • Flash Synchronisation
    • Flash Problems (eg. Red eye)
    • Mixing Flash & Daylight
  4. Meters & Filters
    • Measuring light (centre weighted system, Spot reading meter)
    • Problems with different meters
    • Backlit Subjects
    • Filters
  5. Other Equipment for Lighting
    • Reflectors
    • Problems with Aluminised Reflectors
    • Reflector attachments
    • Diffusers
    • Tripods and Stands
    • Specialised Light Sources (Spots, Cyclorama lights, Part lights, Stroboscopic lights, Ring lights)
    • Backgrounds
    • Digital Cameras
  6. Contrast and Composition
    • Introduction
    • Subject Contrast
    • Lighting Contrast
    • Brightness Range
    • Exposure Compensation
    • Ways of Assessing Composation
    • Compensating for Reflected Glare
    • Compensating for Lens Flare
  7. Studio Lighting
    • Portrait Studio Lighting
    • Working with studio lights
    • Creating lighting effects
    • Background lighting
    • Mixed lighting
    • The Basic studio
    • Additiuonal lighting equipment
    • Special techniques (Fashion lighting, Butterfly lighting, Lighting still life, etc)
  8. On-Location Lighting
    • Outdoor lighting effects
    • Time of Day
    • Weather
    • Excessive outdoor light
    • Night photography
    • Underwater Photography
    • Creating Intense Colour
    • Rainforest Photography
    • Photographing Cars
    • Special Techniques (High speed, Injtermittent capture, etc)
    • Lighting Plants
    • On location Photo Skills

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Discuss the scope and nature of lighting as relevant to photography.
  • Describe how different light sources will affect different images in varying ways.
  • Describe how different filters can be used to create different lighting effects.
  • Identify the differences between different types of light meters.
  • Describe the range of equipment which can be used to help achieve more desirable light conditions for photography.
  • Explain contrast and how to compensate for imperfect light conditions.
  • Explain how to use tone to create the desired final image.
  • Distinguish between utilisation of light in a studio and on location.

What You Will Do

  • Investigate different film types with respect to suitability for different light conditions
  • Set up and use a Computation Folder
  • Shoot film of different subjects under a variety of light conditions
  • Apply the zone system to different situations
  • Analyse the lighting effects in various photos
  • Research the characteristics and uses of different types of equipment

Extract from the Course Notes.....

For photographic purposes, light possesses several properties. The first is intensity, which will be discussed later. The second is colour, which in photographic terms is measured by colour temperature. This temperature scale is based upon the concept of a ‘black body radiator’. In essence, this means that if we take, for example, a cold black iron bar and heat it, we will eventually reach the point where it begins to emit light. The temperature required to make this body emit light is measured in Kelvin degrees, the scale of which begins at absolute zero or minus 273 degrees C.

Consequently, the light emitted by a tungsten light source (for example, studio flood lights), is said to have a colour temperature of 3,200 degrees or the equivalent in light spectrum emission to a black body radiator heated to this temperature. The higher the temperature, the bluer and less red the light emitted until eventually, at very high temperatures, the light moves towards the violet end of the visible spectrum. Normal daylight is measured to be 5500K degrees.

Colour Temperature
is important in colour photography as film is manufactured to give accurate colour images based on this system of measurement. Tungsten film will produce false colour in daylight and vice versa. Some sources of light (eg. Fluorescent tubes) produce light through the injection of electrical energy into an excitable gas. Such sources are given a value called a correlative colour temperature. Since the gas does not behave as a black body radiator, the value cannot be seen as having the same reliability, since these types of light sources do not give a consistent colour output and can include spectral spikes which cause colour casts with some films.

Incident or Reflected Light
The other two major properties of light are whether the light is incident or reflected. Incident light is measured from its source as it lands on or hits the surface of a subject. Reflected light is the light that comes from a surface, or in other words, the incident light measured as it bounces off the surface of the subject. In general, incident light readings for photographic purposes are a more accurate manner of determining correct exposure than reflected light readings. However, there are obvious situations (eg. landscapes) where it is impossible to take an incident reading due to the scale of the subject being photographed. In these cases, reflected readings are our only options.

Lighting is a critical factor in photography. Light sources can be defined in terms of four properties:

  • Colour Temperature
  • Power (or Brightness)
  • Size
  • Prevailing Direction

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