If you’ve been taking photos for a while, you’ve probably heard that natural light is best for photography. While this is true, you can’t control sunlight as you please.

On days when clouds cover the sun, you get even, diffused light. Other times you end up mostly with bright, harsh light. If you want full control over lighting, you should opt for artificial lighting.

This is especially important if you work primarily in the studio. But the transition from natural to artificial lighting can be daunting. We are here to help you.

The basics of lighting

In photography, lighting is essential. Without good light, your photos will look flat and unattractive. So, before we dive deeper into the types of lighting, let’s learn some basics about lighting.

There are three main types of lighting: main lighting, task lighting and backlighting.

key light is the main light with which you illuminate your subject. Suppose you are photographing someone outdoors in natural light, the sun is your main light. The most powerful light you will use will be your main light when you are in the studio.

Fill light is the light you use to fill in the shadows cast by your subject. It is often placed in front of the main light and is generally less intense. Did you use a reflector to fill in shadows when shooting in natural light? The reflector acts as a fill light in this case.

Backlight is the light you place behind your subject. The purpose of this light is to bring depth to your subject by better defining the outline. Read all about backlighting here. It basically separates your subject from the background.

You should use these three lighting techniques to get evenly lit photos with depth and detail. Of course, once you master them, you can play around to create different lighting setups.

Hard light versus soft light

Before using artificial lights, you must first know the quality of the light. Photographers define the quality of light by the type of shadows it produces.

For example, hard light creates shadows with hard edges. Imagine you are in direct sunlight, you can see your shadow distinctly. On the other hand, soft light produces gradual shadows without hard edges. Shadows aren’t as well defined on cloudy days.

Hard light is great for adding seriousness, edginess and drama to your photos, while soft light makes your subject look nice and friendly.

Types of artificial lighting

You can choose three types of lighting for your studio photography projects.

Continuous lighting

This type of lighting is where you keep the light on continuously in the background while taking pictures. Your camera and flash work separately without the need to communicate with each other. You can choose a studio bulb or LED lights for your continuous lighting setup. Also, this is the one to use for videography.

Continuous lighting is simple: you turn on the lights, see how they illuminate your scene, decide on exposure settings, and start shooting. You can even use your camera’s auto mode with continuous lighting.

As you can see, continuous lighting is simple to master and you can try it first if you are a beginner. But, there are some downsides to this. You still need an external power supply to power your lights. And the setup will heat up quickly because you’ll keep the lights on longer. This can especially become annoying in a small studio.

In mixed lighting scenarios involving different lights, for example in a room with fluorescent or tungsten bulbs, you may want a more powerful light such as a studio flash or strobe to fully master the mixed lighting.


Unlike continuous lighting, flashes only flash when your camera takes a picture. The flashes are quite powerful, but they’re lightweight, portable, and don’t take up much room in your camera bag.

They are powered by regular AA batteries and you don’t have to worry about finding a power source when going to different places for photo shoots.

Flashes are also versatile because you can use them on your camera’s hot shoe as an in-camera flash. But, when using them as an external flash, you will need a trigger that will tell the flash to fire when your camera takes a picture. Expensive flashes have a built-in shutter release.

With flashes, you also have some disadvantages. Unless you have advanced flash with high speed sync, you are limited to using 1/200 or 1/250 as your shutter speed. This can be a problem if you’re trying to freeze motion. They are not as powerful as studio strobes.

When working with flashes, you won’t be able to see the result of your shot until you click on some images and check them on your camera. So, you should be ready to play around with different settings and find the one that works for you.

Monolight and strobe flash

Monolights, also called studio strobes, are self-powered flashes capable of producing very intense light for a short duration. They are bigger and bulkier than flashes but have a shorter recycle time between shots. They are so powerful that you can even use them outdoors to subdue sunlight.

Monolights have what’s called modeling light, which will illuminate your scene so you can see exactly how your photos will turn out.

The main disadvantage of studio flashes is that they are bulkier to carry. However, there is a new type of flash called a stroboscopic flash which is like a cross between a monolight and a flash. Powered by batteries, they pack a punch. More power and less weight: you get the best of both worlds.

Don’t Forget Light Modifiers

Light modifiers like softboxes, reflectors, umbrellas, grids and beauty bowls are necessary accessories in your studio. They are essential to bringing your vision to life. So, explore different modifiers and find out how they impact your photos.

Choose the right type of lighting for you

Using artificial lights can open a whole new world to you. But, you may be reluctant to try it. Fortunately, artificial lighting is not so difficult to master. All these different new terms and gadgets may scare you, but don’t let them stop you. Start with continuous lighting, practice regularly, then move on to more complex lighting.

The good news is that there are affordable options for lighting equipment online. You can also buy them as kits with lights, light stands, softboxes, and other accessories. There’s no reason to stop you from trying out studio lighting. So why not give it a shot? Good click!


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