Flash photography: tips on lighting

By Mark Watson 13 September 2012
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Lighting is a vital part of any photograph, so photographer Mark Watson is here to help you get the right mix.

ALL GREAT PHOTOGRAPHS HAVE great lighting. Sometimes the lighting is natural, sometimes artificial and sometimes a mixture of both. As the photographer you need to utilise what you have. Inspired imagery can be created at any time of day however the basic rule for outdoor photography is the first two hours of light and the last two hours of light in the day are best.

Lighting in photographs

As the sun rises and sets it creates a warm light which saturates colours and adds ‘punch’ to a scene. If you can, shoot between these hours and work fast, the light is perfect only for moments.

In addition, always be aware of how light interacts with your subject. “Look at how the light hits a scene around you,” Mike says. “Note the shadows, and how the light reflects off the things that surround you. Is it hard or soft? One simple tip is to hold your hand up in front of you and rotate 360 degrees and up/down. This gives you a quick idea of how the light is hitting larger subjects around you. When you see something you like try to put you and your subjects in similar positions.

“Also learn how to use contrast to your advantage. Some of the most dramatic forms of lighting come from high-contrast scenes. Look for dramatic backlighting or scenarios where your subject is in the light but is amongst dark shadows. You’ll be amazed.”

Artificial light can also be a saviour. Streetlights offer dramatic light while firelight creates a warm ambience. Finally, flash can be used to create a high-impact image but flash photography is complex and so if you are not confident, don’t go there! Most mid-level pro-DSLRs have a small pop-up flash and powerful accessory flashes are available if extra light or creative lighting is desired.


If you are using an accessory flash, a simple way to create nice portraiture light is to bounce the light off the roof or wall. You can even angle the flash straight up and place your hand at a 45 degree angle over the top to bounce it off your hand for a warm feel.