5 Creative Lighting Techniques for Better Photos
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. Use light painting for unique visual effects
  2. Experiment with reflected light
  3. Try silhouette photography for dramatic results
  4. Play with color gels and filters
  5. Create bokeh for a dreamy effect

Photography is a visual language that hinges on light. By mastering various creative lighting techniques, you can enhance the mood and ambiance in your photography, bringing your images to life. Let's explore five such techniques that can transform the way you use light and shade in your photos, making them more evocative and impactful.

Use light painting for unique visual effects

Light painting is an intriguing technique that can help you create some truly magical images. By using a slow shutter speed and moving a light source during the exposure, you can 'paint' with light, creating interesting patterns and effects.

Choosing the Right Tools

To get started with light painting, you'll need a few basic tools:

  • Camera: Any camera with manual controls for shutter speed, aperture, and ISO will do the trick. If you're just starting, even a basic DSLR or mirrorless camera will work.
  • Light Source: This can be anything from a flashlight, LED light, glow sticks, or even your phone's torch. The key is to experiment with different light sources to see what effects you can create.
  • Tripod: Since you'll be using a slow shutter speed, a sturdy tripod is a must to avoid camera shake.

Setting Up the Shot

Once you have your tools, it's time to set up your shot. Here's a simple step-by-step guide:

  1. Choose a Dark Location: Light painting works best in low light conditions. This can be indoors or outdoors, as long as it's dark.
  2. Set Up Your Camera: Mount your camera on the tripod and adjust the settings. Start with a slow shutter speed (like 30 seconds), a low ISO (to reduce noise), and a small aperture (for a greater depth of field).
  3. Compose Your Shot: Frame your shot and focus on your subject. If you're including a person or an object in your shot, make sure they're still during the exposure to avoid blur.
  4. Start Painting: Press the shutter button and start moving your light source in front of the camera. The path you trace with the light will appear as a streak in your final image.

Experiment and Refine

One of the joys of light painting is the freedom to experiment. Try different movements, light sources, and camera settings to see what works and what doesn't. Remember, it's about enhancing the mood and ambiance in your photography through creative lighting techniques. So, don't be afraid to think outside the box and let your creativity shine.

Experiment with reflected light

Reflected light can bring a unique, dynamic element to your photography. It can add depth, create interesting patterns, and enhance the mood and ambiance of your images. Let's check out how you can start using reflected light in your own work.

Understanding Reflected Light

Reflected light is simply light that bounces off one surface and illuminates another. This could be light reflecting off a mirror, a body of water, or even a shiny car. By paying attention to these reflections, you can use them to your advantage in your photography.

Finding Reflective Surfaces

Almost any surface can act as a reflector, but some are more effective than others. Here are a few examples:

  • Mirrors: Probably the most obvious choice, mirrors can provide a crisp, clear reflection.
  • Water: Ponds, lakes, or even a glass of water can create beautiful, dream-like reflections.
  • Metal: Shiny metal surfaces can provide interesting, abstract reflections.

Creating Your Own Reflectors

If you're struggling to find natural reflectors, why not create your own? A simple piece of white card can act as a great reflector, bouncing light back onto your subject and softening shadows. For a warmer tone, try using a piece of gold card instead.

Working with Reflected Light

Now that you've got your reflector, it's time to experiment. Try positioning your reflector at different angles to your subject, and observe how the light changes. You might be surprised at the results!

The key to mastering this creative lighting technique is practice. So grab your camera, find a reflector, and start playing around with reflected light. It might just give your photography the mood and ambiance boost it needs!

Try silhouette photography for dramatic results

Imagine a scene where the main subject is shrouded in mystery, its details hidden, leaving only its shape against a soft, glowing backdrop. This is the dramatic power of silhouette photography, a creative lighting technique that can truly enhance the mood and ambiance in your photography. So, how do you create such a striking image? Let's find out.

Setting the Stage for Silhouettes

Creating a silhouette is all about controlling the light in your shot. The first rule of thumb is to position your subject between your camera and the light source. Sunsets or brightly lit windows work wonders here. Remember, you want your subject to be backlit.

Exposure is Key

When taking a silhouette photo, you're aiming to underexpose your subject while keeping the background light. This might sound tricky, but it's all about where you meter your exposure. Instead of your subject, meter on the brightest part of your image, and your camera will do the rest.

Choosing Your Subject

Almost any subject can work for a silhouette, but subjects with distinct or recognizable shapes often work best. Think the outline of a person, the silhouette of a tree, or the shape of a building against the setting sun.

Boosting the Drama

To really enhance the mood and ambiance in your silhouette photography, try adding elements of color or texture in the background. A setting sun can create a stunningly colorful backdrop, while cloud formations can add an additional layer of interest to your shot.

So there you have it. With these steps, you're well on your way to creating beautiful, dramatic silhouette photos. Remember, like any creative lighting technique, practice makes perfect. So, don't be afraid to experiment and find what works best for you. Happy shooting!

Play with color gels and filters

Who said photography needs to be black and white? Adding a splash of color to your photos can dramatically change the mood and ambiance of your shots. One way to do this is by using color gels and filters — a fun and creative lighting technique you'll definitely want to try out. Let's get started.

What are color gels and filters?

Color gels and filters are thin, transparent sheets that you place over your light source to change the color of the light. They come in a myriad of colors, allowing you to create a wide range of effects. Now, you might be wondering, what impact does this have on photography?

Changing the Mood and Ambiance

By altering the color of your light, you can create different moods and atmospheres in your photos. For instance, a warm orange gel can create a romantic sunset feel, while a cool blue gel can mimic moonlight for a quiet, tranquil scene.

Creating Contrast and Depth

Color gels and filters can also be used to create contrast and depth in your images. By using different colored gels on different light sources, you can highlight certain areas of your photo and create a sense of three-dimensionality.

Tips for Using Color Gels and Filters

  • Test different combinations: Don't be afraid to mix and match gels and filters to see what effects you can create.
  • Start with primary colors: If you're new to using gels and filters, start with primary colors like red, blue, and yellow. As you get more comfortable, you can start experimenting with more complex color schemes.
  • Keep it subtle: While it can be tempting to go all out with color, sometimes less is more. A subtle hint of color can often be more effective in creating mood and ambiance.

With these tips in mind, you're ready to bring your photos to life with color gels and filters. Remember, photography is an art, and there are no strict rules. Experiment, play, and most importantly, have fun with this creative lighting technique.

Create bokeh for a dreamy effect

Ever marvel at those photos with a sharp subject and a beautifully blurred background full of tiny, soft light spots? That's bokeh, a Japanese term meaning 'blur.' It's a creative lighting technique that can add a dreamy, surreal touch to your photos. Let's dive in and explore how you can create this effect yourself.

What is bokeh, really?

Bokeh refers to the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image. It’s not about the blur itself, but rather the shapes and aesthetic quality of the light within that blur. Special, isn’t it?

How to create a bokeh effect?

Creating bokeh requires a bit of understanding about your camera settings, specifically aperture. The key to achieving a beautiful bokeh effect lies in using a wide aperture, which means a lower f-stop number on your camera. This allows a lot of light to enter the lens, resulting in a shallower depth of field and a gorgeous, blurred background.

Creating the Mood and Ambiance with Bokeh

Bokeh is not just a fancy effect; it's a tool for enhancing the mood and ambiance in your photography. A photo with a bokeh effect can convey a dreamy, peaceful, or even magical atmosphere. Imagine a portrait taken at dusk, with the city lights behind your subject turned into a sea of soft, glowing orbs. That's the power of bokeh!

Tips for creating beautiful bokeh

  1. Use a fast lens: Lenses with wide apertures (small f-numbers) are great for creating bokeh. A 50mm lens with an f/1.8 aperture is a good start.
  2. Distance matters: The distance between your subject, the camera, and the background can affect the quality of the bokeh. Experiment with different distances to find what creates the best effect.
  3. Light source: Bokeh is all about light. Christmas lights, city lights, or sunlight filtering through leaves can all create stunning bokeh.

And there you have it! With a bit of practice and experimentation, you'll be creating stunning bokeh effects in no time. Enjoy playing around with this creative lighting technique and see how it can breathe new life into your photos. Trust me, the results can be truly magical!

If you enjoyed learning about creative lighting techniques and want to take your photography skills even further, don't miss the workshop 'Tips To Compose More Compelling Photos' by Austin James Jackson. This workshop will offer you valuable tips and tricks to help you create stunning, eye-catching images that truly stand out.