A Guide to Studio Lighting Terminology

Written by Backdrop Express Photography Team on . Posted in Photography Tips, Studio Lighting

A Guide to Studio Lighting Terminology | Backdrop Express Blog One of the first steps to getting your studio lighting right is learning the lingo. It’s easy for lighting jargon to sound like another language to a newcomer, but with a little practice, you’ll soon be speaking it like a native. To get you started, here are the most commonly used lighting terms:

Spot Light

Most people think of the theater when they hear this word, and they’re not far off. The spot light is the main light which directly focuses and hones in on the subject, rather than being diffused. It’s the most intense lighting option.

Bounce Light

Bounce lights are commonly used to illuminate a photography background. This light is reflected by another surface before it hits the backdrop. Because the light bounces off another surface, it is less intense than a spot light. Exactly how much the light diffuses will depend both on the original light source and the bounce surface. Since a bounce light does not cause strong shadows, it is often used as a fill light.

Flood Light

A flood light hits a subject directly, similarly to a spot light. However, its light spans a broader scope, making it softer and less intense. When targeting a specific subject, there are fewer edgy shadows present. Flood lights are also very useful for lighting large areas.

Guide to Studio Lighting Terminology | Backdrop Express Blog

“Too Hot”

“Too hot” is a critical phrase many photographers use to describe patches of light in their image that are more bright than intended. It has nothing to do with the “heat” of an image. These hot spots may be identified either during the shooting process while the studio lighting is being set up or while editing digital photos later.

Soft Light

The term soft light is actually less about light, and more about focus. A photo that uses soft light tends to be slightly muddied or blurred. There are various digital lighting situations where soft lighting may be desirable. Many use it to hide blemishes, and it is generally thought to add a romantic feel to portrait photography. It’s used frequently in a range of other lighting situations, such as stage and film.

Ambient Lighting

Ambient lighting is the natural light in a setting before being altered by influence of the photographer. Think of sunlight; it can’t be fully manipulated, but you can tweak and adjust your equipment to fit what you want it to do.

Overexposure & Underexposure

Overexposure occurs when there is too much light in the photograph. For example, if your subjects lighting is too strong, the photo may contain washed out colors and white spots. Sometimes a backdrop can cause overexposure if it contains too much color or detail.

Guide to Studio Lighting Terminology | Backdrop Express Blog Underexposure lies on the opposite end of the spectrum. If there is not enough light in a picture, you may experience undesirable shadows, loss of depth, and loss of color.

Backlight

A backlight is a light source that is set up to shine from behind your subject. Backlights are often used to highlight the edges of an item so it can be trimmed and cut if needed. They draw attention away from the background, and towards the object of your photograph.

Guide to Studio Lighting Terminology | Backdrop Express Blog

Magic Hour

Although not specific to studio lighting, another common lighting term among photographers is the magic hour. This is the time of day when the sunlight is the most colorful. Typically at sunset or sunrise, it is a time when a multitude of colors are manifested in the sky.

Fill Light

A fill light is used when your main studio lighting apparatus leaves gaps or unwanted in your lighting. Fill lights are gentle, and don’t reduce the shapes of the image being captured.

Ratio Lighting

Ratio lighting is an uneven type of lighting that alters the appearance of the subject. It helps to balance the fill light and the key light so the item being pictured fully visible and well contrasted with its surroundings.

-Backdrop Express Photography Team

Interested in learning more about lighting? Check out:  What is Soft and Hard Light?

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Comments (2)

  • Canon 550d Photography Tips

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    It’s actually a cool and helpful piece of info. I am happy that you just shared this useful information with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

  • Ian Hargraves

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    Soft Light
    TOTALLY WRONG. IT IS ALL ABOUT THE LIGHT,

    The term soft light is actually less about light, and more about focus. A photo that uses soft light tends to be slightly muddied or blurred. There are various digital lighting situations where soft lighting may be desirable. Many use it to hide blemishes, and it is generally thought to add a romantic feel to portrait photography. It’s used frequently in a range of other lighting situations, such as stage and film.

    Reply

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