Photographic Lighting

Photographic lighting courses available through ACS Distance Education. Click here for more information, or click here to enrol.

Managing Light

Management of lighting is an essential skill in photography. To manage light properly requires planning a photograph before it is taken. You need to consider how you want subject matter of the photograph lit.

1st Consider all the components of the photograph

  • What is the focal point, or main thing that you want people to see? This might be a face, or perhaps just part of a face; or perhaps a building or part of a building.
  • There will be other components in any photo, even if no more than a dark background.

2nd Consider how you want the various components lit.

  • The intensity, colour and direction of light hitting various components may create shadows, and make some parts of the image stand out more or less than what they perhaps do in real life. In this way, by managing the light, the photographer can have a strong influence upon the image that is created.
  • Stronger light will obviously make the focal point more prominent

3rd Decide on your light sources

  • If using natural light, you can manipulate the light source by choosing to photograph at different times of day; or by using things to block or reflect the natural light (eg. A cover of trees, moveable screens, mirrors, reflective surfaces like metal or water)
  • If using artificial light, you can choose the colour, intensity and positioning of any light source.

Colour sensitivity for different photographic materials can readily be determined in a studio situation by photographing a colour chart with a range of coloured sections and a scale of greys. The test is enhanced if a second photo is taken in identical conditions using material of a known sensitivity for further comparison.

Sensiometry involves studying the way in which a photo sensitive material surface or material responds to light (eg. how sensitive is film or a CCD to light). There are various things that can affect this response, including: 

  • The subject

  • Exposure

  • Blackness

  • Scatter

  • Callier Coefficient
  • Characteristic Curve

The Subject
A camera perceives a subject as a combination of different areas of varying brightness and colour. The brightness factor is measured in “candles per square inch”. The colour is determined by the position of the light stream in the spectrum 
(ie. wavelength or combination of wavelengths of the light stream, coming from a particular area of the subject). The luminance or brightness can exhibit variations due to reflection characteristics in different areas (ie. One area of the subject may reflect light more or differently to another; hence the representation of that area can be distorted). The ratio between maximum and minimum luminance emerging from a subject is called the luminance range.

When a photo is taken, light streams from each of the different parts of the subject will hit the photosensitive surface (eg. film) at the same point in time. The reaction which film has to each stream of light is broadly affected by: 

  • the duration of the light stream (time)
  • the intensity of the light (luminance).

Exposure is proportional to illumination and duration of the exposure. Different parts of a subject can have different levels of illumination. In order to get the best exposure for any one part of a subject, the duration of the exposure must be adjusted to suit the level of illumination coming from that area of the subject. 

Blackness of Image
Some parts of a photograph will receive less light than others, resulting in a greater degree of blackening in the processed photo (eg. A print).The blackness of a photo might be defined as the “light stopping power”. This characteristic may be expressed as Transmission, Opacity or Density.

Is a measure of the ratio of light transmitted from the subject, to light incident on the photo sensitive surface (eg. negative). Transmission is always below 1.
Transmission decreases as blackness increases.

Is a ratio of the light incident (ie. light occurring) on the photo sensitive surface to the light transmitted. This is always above 1. Opacity increases as blackness increases.

Is a logarithm of the opacity. Density always increases, as blackness increases. The measure of density is the most commonly used measure of blackness.


Distance Education Course with ACS


Duration:  100 Hours (you study at your own pace).

There are eight lessons in this module as follows: 

  1. Light Characteristics and Lighting Concepts

  2. Light Sources – continuous & flash

  3. Meters and Filters

  4. Other Equipment for Lighting

  5. Contrast & Composition

  6. The Zone System

  7. Studio Lighting

  8. On-Location Lighting


  • 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.


This course involves far more than just reading and answering questions.
Here are just some examples of other things you may find yourself doing:

  • Investigating different film types with respect to suitability for different light conditions

  • Setting up and using a “Computation Folder”

  • Shooting photos of different subjects under a variety of light conditions

  • Applying the zone system to different situations

  • Analysing the lighting effects in various photos

  • Researching the characteristics of different types of equipment

Click here to enrol