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How to Start a Photography Business - Tip #5 Know Your Light



Light. It’s right there in the word photography. We record light to make a lasting image. At the end of the day, light is what photography is all about.


Your understanding of light is what will separate your photography from what we all can do on our phones.


Your use of light will give your photos the polish that only comes with a professional.


What you need to provide is good light. But what is good light?


At the very basic level, good light is proper exposure. Is your subject bright enough? Is everything else in the photo lit in a way that does not detract from your subject?


One good test for the balance of light in your photos is to squint your eyes and see what is brightest. If it’s not your main subject, then something needs to change. Our eyes naturally focus on what is brightest, so be careful of unintentional imbalances in your photos.


Proper exposure also just means that your photo is overall bright enough. Typically you want that Goldilocks-level of brightness: not too dark, not too bright, just right. Of course, that’s subjective and depends on what you are trying to achieve. But if you’re not manipulating light yourself and simply using the ambient light around you, then make sure you’ve set your camera to capture just the right amount of light.




Beyond proper exposure, good light means light that we don’t see on an everyday basis. We all see midday light from above, so how can your light be different from our everyday light? Early light and late late are always better–who doesn’t love a golden hour photo?


The angle and color of your light can also provide variety beyond our everyday experience. Whatever you do, ask yourself, “Is this different from what we see everyday?” If so, then you’re on your way to good light.


As you experiment with finding and creating good light, there are three more reasons that you need to learn about and know your light.





Here are three important reasons you need to know your light:


Reason 1 - Meet Client Needs


If a client says to me, “I want to do photos like this,” or “We want to match the look in this headshot,” then you need to know how to do it!


Look at the shadows, look at the direction, and most importantly look in their eyes. The eyes tell you everything you need to know about how a photo was created. The bright dots in our eyes in photos are called catch lights, and there’s a catch light for each light source that created the photo.


Your ability to recognize and mimic light will help you meet the needs of your client and help you feel confident when someone comes to you with a request.





Reason 2 - Solve Problems


Every session will have that moment where you see something in your head but what comes out on the camera doesn’t match. You know you can create the look in your head, but something just isn’t working.


That’s when you need to change something about your light. Do you need to move your subject? Move your light? Bring things closer? Farther? Higher, lower? More or less intense?


What I’ll often notice is that the shadows on my subject’s faces aren’t where I want them to be. Or that their skin doesn’t look as smooth as I think it should. A simple change of direction should solve that problem. Often that means me bringing light directly in front of my subject rather than from the side.


Don’t hesitate to change things in the moment. Your client will appreciate that you are solving problems and showing your expertise.





Reason 3 - Provide Variety and Style


The previous two reasons were functional, but knowing your light is really about having fun and being creative. Whether you’re adjusting size, angle, intensity, distance, or color, controlling your light is all about having fun and providing variety to your photos.


Even if you’re enjoying the look at the moment, don’t hesitate to try something new. You never know if that new look and style will be what you and your client enjoy most.


The best part about learning light is when you start creating it yourself with flashes and strobes. I have many articles about learning flash, so click below for the skill you’re curious about.






As I said at the start, light is in the word photography itself. The mark of a true professional is the ability to capture, control, and create light. Get out there and play!


If you missed my first four tips for starting a photography business, click below!

Still have questions? Please reach out! I am always happy to help.


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