Good Lighting vs Bad Lighting in Professional Photography

Photography is all about light, yet this vital ingredient often eludes many photographers. When you’re on the field or in the studio, the question often arises – am I dealing with good lighting vs. bad lighting? This article aims to illuminate this intricate spectrum, offering tips and tricks to transform any light into an asset for your photography.

Intrigued? Let’s illuminate how better lighting can transform your photography skills!

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding the difference between bad and good lighting in photography is crucial for capturing high-quality images with desired styles and moods.
  • Bad lighting can negatively impact a photograph’s overall quality and effectiveness by not reflecting the intended mood, having distracting bright lights or shadows in the background, improper usage of hair light, unbalanced lighting, and horror movie uplighting.
  • Good lighting involves elements such as softness, even distribution, flattering shadows, control over brightness, harnessing natural light, use of reflectors for enhancement, and proper positioning of main light to avoid unflattering shadows.

Bad Lighting Vs Good Lighting In Photography: Understanding the difference

Various factors, such as the quality, quantity, direction, color, and duration of the light, can distinguish bad lighting and good lighting in photography.

Understanding Bad Lighting Vs Good Lighting

Factors that affect the quality of light (quality, quantity, direction, color, duration)

Several vital elements influence the quality of light in a photograph. These factors can drastically alter the overall outlook of the image, highlighting details or creating shadows, depending on their use. Here they are:

  1. Quality: The ‘quality’ refers to whether the light is hard or soft. Hard light creates distinctive and harsh shadows, while soft light offers a more subtle transition between light and dark areas, often seen as more flattering, especially in portrait photography.
  2. Quantity: This refers to the amount of light available for a shot. Too much light can overexpose your photo leading to loss of detail (“blown-out highlights”), while insufficient light may leave your subjects inadequately illuminated or engulfed in shadows.
  3. Direction: The direction light hits your subject significantly impacts how it appears on camera. Whether it’s coming from behind, above, below, or the sides can result in different effects like silhouettes or long shadows.
  4. Color: Often overlooked by beginners, color temperature is an essential facet of lighting as it directly affects the mood of your photograph; cooler colors suggest an aloof ambiance, while warmer hues give off a cozy feel.
  5. Duration: This mainly applies to natural lighting affecting how changes throughout the day can impact your shots; for example, midday sunlight tends to be harsher than early morning or late afternoon glow.

Components of good lighting (soft, even, flattering shadows)

Mastering the art of good lighting in photography involves understanding its key features. These elements harmonize harmoniously to create a visual impact that enhances the subject’s appeal and sets the desired mood. Here’s what to pay attention to:

  1. Quality of Light: Look for soft light that reduces harsh shadows and creates a more subtle transition between light and dark areas.
  2. Even Distribution: Aim for an even distribution of light over your subject. Unequal lighting can expose certain parts brightly while leaving others shrouded in darkness, leading to unbalanced images.
  3. Flattering Shadows: Good lighting generates flattering shadows that fall naturally on the subject’s face or figure, emphasizing depth and dimension without obscuring important details.
  4. Direction of Light: Pay attention to where the light is coming from. The best angles usually fall slightly above eye level, producing natural-looking results that spotlight facial expressions.
  5. Control Over Brightness: Achieve a balance between highlights and shadows by manipulating your light source’s intensity; too bright may cause details to be blown out, while overly dim lights make subjects appear undefined.
  6. Harness Natural Light: Use natural light sources such as the sun during overcast days or find shaded areas for softer illumination whenever possible.
  7. Use Reflectors: Enhance poorly lit scenes using reflectors that bounce soft light onto your subject, creating vibrant colors and great photos.

Components of bad lighting 

Recognizing elements of bad lighting is crucial to improving your photography skills. These components range from:

  1. Harsh light: This often produces strongly defined, unflattering shadows on your subject and the surrounding environment. Harsh light can drastically alter a person’s appearance for the worse. It creates hard edges and emphasizes skin imperfections that soft light would otherwise tone down.
  2. Unflattering shadows: Shadows aren’t inherently harmful in photo composition. However, they become problematic when they engulf the subject or crucial areas of your scene, obscuring details and altering perception.
  3. Blown-out highlights: Overexposure can rob your photos of vital details, particularly in brightly lit sections or reflective surfaces like skin or fabric. It’s essential to maintain an even balance to prevent such distractions.
  4. Light spill in unwanted areas: This happens when uncontrollable bright lights fall into the background or foreground of a shot which can distract viewers from the main subject.
  5. Horror movie uplighting: When the key (main) light is positioned too low, it casts unflattering upward shadows – commonly called “Horror Movie Uplighting.”
  6. Improper use of hair light: Hair lights should give depth and separation between the subject and the background, but when misused, it can create awkward halo effects.
  7. Lack of diffusion: Hard light can be overly harsh without diffusion, causing drastic contrast between bright and shadowy areas.
  8. Unbalanced lighting: This occurs when one section of your photo is significantly brighter than another, making it difficult for viewers’ eyes to move naturally through the image.

What is Good Light?

Good light is typically soft, diffused, and evenly spread, providing a flattering illumination for your subjects. This light is often found in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun is low in the sky.

Quality of light can transform an ordinary portrait into a masterpiece. Soft light delicately sculpts facial features, preserving every detail without casting harsh shadows. Nature and travel photography accentuates textures and enriches colors, transforming landscapes into vibrant canvases.

good lighting
Photo by Johannes Plenio

What Constitutes Bad Light?

Bad light is often described as harsh, overhead, and too bright. It usually occurs around noon on a sunny day when the sunlight is directly above.

The harsh light can create heavy shadows and bright highlights, distracting from your main subject and leaving an unbalance in your photo. This kind of light can be challenging, but understanding how to harness it can lead to incredible results.

Can Bad Light be Transformed into Good Light?

Contrary to most people, there is no absolute good or bad light. What’s important is understanding how to use hard or soft light to create compelling visuals.

You can transform so-called bad light by changing your perspective or using tools like reflectors to bounce the light. Moving your subject to a different location, like under the shade or at a corner where light is softer and less direct, can significantly improve your shot.

How to Handle Bright Light?

Bright light can often feel overwhelming and lead to overexposed, washed-out photos. However, there are ways to work around this.

Try utilizing the bright light as a backlight to create a silhouette, or adjust your camera settings to accommodate the intense light. Use a diffuser or reflector to soften the harsh sunlight and reduce shadowy contrasts if possible.

Bright light

Utilizing Overcast Conditions for Better Photos

An overcast or cloudy day may appear drab, but it provides excellent conditions for photography. The cloud cover acts as a natural diffuser, evenly spreading available light and reducing harsh shadows.

These conditions are perfect for outdoor portraits, as they cast a soft light on the subject’s face and bring out vibrant colors in the surroundings.

Utilizing Overcast Conditions
Photo by Lance Reis

The Role of Shadows in Your Composition

Shadows often get a bad reputation in photography, but they can be used creatively to add depth and interest to your images.

The interplay between light and shadow can create a striking contrast in your photos, especially in black-and-white photography. Whether it’s the long shadows of a sunset or the dramatic edge lighting of a portrait, shadows can bring a unique aesthetic to your work.

Fixing Lighting Issues in Post-Processing

While getting the shot right in-camera should always be the priority, post-processing can help fix some lighting issues. That includes adjusting the exposure, tweaking the white balance to get the right color, or reducing the highlights in overly bright areas.

Remember, post-processing is a tool to enhance your photos, not a crutch to compensate for poor photography skills.


The Influence of Light Color on Your Photos

The color of light can significantly affect the mood and emotion in your photos. For instance, warm evening sunlight provides a golden tint, lending your photos a magical, ethereal quality.

Indoor lighting can cast different color tints, which can be corrected in post-processing. Understanding light color can open up a new dimension in your photography.

Indoor vs Outdoor: Adapting to Different Lighting Conditions

Each environment, indoor and outdoor, presents its lighting challenges. Indoor spaces might have limited natural light and could require the use of flash or other light sources.

Outdoors, you’re subject to the whims of the weather and time of day. The key is to understand the light in your environment and adapt to it. Use an off-camera flash indoors or a reflector to soften harsh outdoor light.

The Impact of Bad Lighting on Photography

Bad lighting in photography can significantly impact an image’s overall quality and effectiveness.

Choosing light that does not reflect the mood of your image

One common photography mistake is choosing light that does not reflect the mood you want the image to capture. The lighting you choose can either enhance or detract from your photograph’s intended atmosphere and message.

For example, using bright and direct sunlight for a moody and mysterious portrait might not convey the desired effect. It’s crucial to consider how different lighting conditions can impact the overall mood of your photo and make choices accordingly.

Distracting bright lights in the background

Bright lights in the background can be distracting in photography, taking attention away from the subject and impacting the composition. These bright lights can draw viewers’ eyes from where you want them to focus. It can cause confusion and reduce the impact of your photograph.

bright light in background

To avoid distracting bright lights in the background, carefully consider your framing and positioning to minimize their presence. Additionally, adjusting your camera settings or techniques, such as using a longer lens or changing angles, can help to reduce their prominence.

Remember that controlling lighting is crucial for capturing professional and visually appealing photographs.

Light spill and shadows in the background

Light spill and shadows in the background can significantly impact the overall quality of a photograph. Spill is when light spills over onto areas where it shouldn’t be. It can cause unwanted brightness or distraction in the background.

It can draw attention away from your subject and make the image look coherent and balanced. Shadows in the background can also be problematic if they are too harsh or appear in undesirable places. They can create visual distractions or obscure important details.

Professional photographers must be mindful of these factors and find ways to control light spill and shadows for more visually pleasing and impactful photographs.

Lack of hair light or improper hair light usage

Hair light is an essential element in photography that often needs to be noticed or properly utilized. Neglecting to include a hair light can result in lackluster images with no depth or dimension.

Professional photographers know the importance of properly positioning and using hair lights.  They enhance their subjects’ features and create a more visually compelling image. Strategically placing a hair light behind the subject helps separate them from the background and adds a layer of visual interest.

This technique is handy for portrait photography. It will highlight the subject’s hair, bring out texture, and add a touch of elegance to the overall composition. Don’t underestimate a well-executed hair light’s impact on your photographs. It’s one detail that can make all the difference between an ordinary and an extraordinary shot.

Watch “My Favorite ways to set up a hair light” for more tips:

The Main light positioned too high without a reflector

Positioning the main light too high without a reflector can result in unflattering shadows and an unbalanced lighting setup. When the main light is placed at a high angle, it tends to cast harsh shadows on the subject’s face, especially under the eyes and nose.

That can create an undesirable look, making the subject appear older or tired. Additionally, without a reflector to bounce some of the light back onto the subject’s face, there may be uneven lighting and loss of detail in certain areas.

To ensure professional-looking results, it’s important to position the main light at an appropriate angle. Also consider using a reflector to soften shadows and achieve balanced lighting across your composition.

Horror movies uplighting

Horror movie uplighting is a common mistake in photography that can turn your subjects into terrifying characters straight out of a horror film. This type of lighting occurs when the main light source is positioned too low. Usually, it’s coming from below the subject’s face or body.

The result is an unflattering and eerie look, with harsh shadows that exaggerate facial features in nightmarish ways. Professional photographers know to avoid this mistake as it can completely transform the mood and impression of a photograph.

By understanding proper lighting techniques and positioning the main light at eye level or slightly above, you can ensure that your subjects look their best and are far from resembling horror movie creatures.

Unbalanced lighting

Unbalanced lighting can significantly impact the overall quality of your photographs. When the lighting is uneven, with one side being considerably brighter than the other, it creates unflattering shadows. It can also make your subject appear lopsided or distorted.

Photo by Margarita

Unbalanced lighting can also affect color rendition, causing certain areas to appear washed out or dull while others are overly saturated. To avoid this issue, prioritize even illumination across your subject and adjust your light sources accordingly.

By properly balancing the light in your photographs, you’ll be able to capture professional-quality images that showcase your subject in their best light.

The Benefits of Good Lighting in Photography

Good lighting in photography enhances the subject’s features, creates dimension and depth, sets the mood and atmosphere, brings out colors and details, and produces professional and pleasing results.

Enhancing the subject’s features

Good lighting is vital in photography to enhance the subject’s features and create a visually appealing image. The right combination of light can bring out the best in your subject, highlighting their facial contours or emphasizing their unique traits.

Soft light, for example, creates a smoother transition between light and shadow, resulting in a more flattering appearance. On the other hand, harsh sunlight can create sharp shadows that may emphasize imperfections.

By understanding how different lighting conditions affect the subject, professional photographers can use light to transform an ordinary photo into something extraordinary.

Creating dimension and depth

Creating dimension and depth is one of the key benefits of good lighting in photography. When capturing an image, well-controlled light can add a three-dimensional quality to your subject. You can highlight different areas and textures using proper lighting techniques, bringing out the depth and details that would otherwise be lost in flat or poorly lit images.

Soft light sources, such as diffused natural window light or artificial modifiers like softboxes or umbrellas, are particularly effective for creating dimension. This type of lighting produces gentle shadows with smooth transitions from light to dark areas.

It helps sculpt the subject’s features, revealing contours and adding depth to their appearance.

On the other hand, harsh or direct lighting can flatten a subject by minimizing shadows and reducing contrast. Professional photographers often use bounce flash or reflectors to soften hard light sources to avoid this effect.

Setting the mood and atmosphere

The lighting in a photograph has the power to set the mood and atmosphere of the image. By carefully selecting and manipulating light, photographers can enhance the emotional impact of their work.

Soft, diffused light can create a romantic or dreamy atmosphere, while harsh, dramatic lighting can evoke feelings of tension or excitement. The proper lighting can bring out specific colors and details, adding depth and dimension to a photograph.

Professional photographers must understand how different types of light contribute to setting the desired mood and atmosphere in their images.

Bringing out colors and details

Good lighting is essential for bringing out vibrant colors and capturing intricate details in your photographs. When the lighting is balanced and properly diffused, it enhances the saturation and richness of colors, making them pop off the screen or print.

Good lighting also helps reveal subtle textures and intricate patterns that may otherwise be lost in shadow or washed out by harsh light. By understanding how different types of light affect color reproduction and detail visibility, professional photographers can ensure that their images are visually compelling and true to life.

Professional and pleasing results

Good lighting plays a crucial role in achieving professional and pleasing results in photography. The right lighting can enhance the features of your subjectcreate dimension and depth, and bring out colors and details in your photographs.

On the other hand, bad lighting can cast unflattering shadowsblow out highlights, or not reflect the mood you want to convey. By understanding how light quality affects your images and using techniques like natural window light or artificial lighting sources, you can control the outcome of your photos and capture stunning shots that truly impress.

Techniques for Overcoming Bad Lighting

To overcome bad lighting, photographers can utilize natural window light or seek shaded areas without direct sunlight. Use reflectors and diffusers to soften harsh light sources. Employ artificial lighting sources when necessary, and make the most of available light sources.

Techniques for Overcoming Bad Lighting

Utilizing natural window light

One effective technique for overcoming bad lighting in photography is to utilize natural window light. Natural window light can provide soft and flattering illumination, creating a beautiful aesthetic for your photographs.

Positioning your subject near a window allows you to take advantage of the diffused light that enters it. This type of lighting creates smoother transitions between light and shadow areas, resulting in more natural-looking images.

Whether you’re shooting portraits or still-life photos, utilizing the soft and even light from a window can significantly enhance the quality of your shots. So next time you struggle with challenging lighting conditions, try harnessing the power of natural window light to achieve professional-looking results.

Seeking shaded areas without direct sunlight

Shaded areas without direct sunlight can be a photographer’s best friend. This kind of lighting is ideal for capturing portraits and other subjects, as it helps to eliminate harsh shadows and create a more even, flattering light across the scene.


By positioning your subject in these shaded areas, you can avoid the unflattering effects of bright, direct sunlight and capture photographs with a softer, more natural look. Shaded areas also provide an excellent opportunity to experiment with different angles and compositions without worrying about harsh contrast or distracting highlights.

So next time you’re out shooting, seek out those shaded spots to enhance the quality of your photographs.

Employing artificial lighting sources

Employing artificial lighting sources is a crucial skill every professional photographer should possess. Artificial light can save the day when natural light is unavailable or insufficient to capture the desired shot.

Whether using studio lights, flash units, or LED panels, having control over your lighting setup allows you to create stunning images in any environment. Artificial lighting also allows you to manipulate and shape light to your advantage. Enabling you to highlight details or create dramatic effects.

With proper knowledge and practice, artificial lighting services can elevate your photography skills and open new creative possibilities for capturing the perfect shot.

Making the most of available light sources

Professional photographers know the importance of utilizing available light sources to capture stunning photographs. By understanding how light behaves and interacts with the subject, they can create incredible images without relying solely on artificial lighting.

Whether embracing soft morning sunlight that casts beautiful shadows or finding shaded areas on a bright day, using natural light effectively can enhance your photos by bringing out colors, adding depth, and setting the desired mood.

Photographers who master working with available light have a distinct advantage in capturing professional-quality images that stand out.

Examples of Good and Bad Lighting in Photography

In good lighting, such as during cloudy and overcast days, the soft light creates a smooth transition between light and dark areas, resulting in a more balanced and pleasing photograph. Here are some examples:

High sun and midday light (bad lighting)

High sun and midday light is often considered bad lighting for photography. This type of lighting creates harsh shadows and blown-out highlights, which can be unflattering to the subject. The brightness of the sunlight at this time of day can also make it difficult to capture details and colors accurately.

bad lighting

Shadows cast by high sun can create unbalanced lighting in a photograph, with overly bright areas and too dark. Professional photographers understand the challenges posed by high sun and midday light, and they know how to overcome them using techniques such as seeking shade or using diffusers to soften the harshness of the light.

Cloudy and overcast light (good lighting)

Cloudy and overcast light is often considered favorable for photography because it provides soft, diffused lighting with minimal harsh shadows. This type of lighting creates a more even distribution of light across the subject, resulting in a smoother transition between highlights and shadows.

good lighting

Photographers can capture vibrant colors and details without worrying about extreme contrasts or blown-out highlights with cloudy or overcast conditions. The softer quality of this light also allows for more flexibility in shooting angles and compositions.

Professional photographers can take full advantage of these conditions to create visually pleasing images that showcase their subjects in the best possible way.

Rainy days (challenging lighting)

Rainy days can present a challenge when it comes to photography lighting. The overcast sky and lack of direct sunlight make images dull and flat. In addition, raindrops on the lens or water reflections can cause distractions in the final photo.

However, by making some adjustments, you can still capture great shots, even on rainy days. Using diffused light from cloudy skies can create soft and pleasing lighting conditions, adding a unique mood to your photographs.

rainy day photography

Just be sure to protect your equipment from water damage and experiment with different angles and compositions to make the most of this challenging lighting situation.


  • Good light is soft, diffused, and typically found in the early morning or late afternoon.
  • Bad light is often harsh overhead, creating heavy shadows and overly bright highlights.
  • There’s no absolute good or bad light. You can work with any light situation and transform it to create compelling photos.
  • Utilize bright light by changing your perspective, using it as a backlight, or using a diffuser or reflector.
  • Overcast conditions create a soft, flattering light for outdoor portraits.
  • Shadows can add depth and interest to your photos, creating a striking contrast.
  • Post-processing can help fix some lighting issues but should be used to enhance photos, not fix them.
  • The color of light can significantly affect the mood and emotion of your photos.
  • Understanding and adapting to the light in your indoor or outdoor environment is critical to successful photography.


In conclusion, understanding the difference between bad lighting and good lighting is essential for professional photographers. Choosing the proper lighting can make or break a photograph by affecting the mood, shadows, and overall image quality.

By prioritizing good lighting techniques and avoiding common mistakes, photographers can create stunning photographs that capture the true essence of their subjects. So remember to pay attention to light quality, use diffusers and reflectors when necessary, and experiment with different sources to get that perfect shot.

Photographers can transform ordinary moments into extraordinary visual masterpieces with knowledge and practice. Keep shooting!

Watch “When Natural Light Goes Wrong” for more tips!


Harsh shadows, blown-out highlights, and an overall lack of balance between light and dark areas in the image characterize bad lighting in photography. It can result in flat or unflattering photos with poor contrast and little detail.

Good lighting enhances a photograph by providing even illumination, flattering shadows, and highlighting important details. It creates depth, dimension, and mood in the image, resulting in visually appealing and impactful photos.

To improve lighting conditions for photography, you can utilize natural light by shooting during golden hour (early morning or sunset). You can use reflectors or diffusers to manipulate sunlight or artificial light sources. You can adjust the position of your subject relative to the light source. Using supplemental lights like flash or studio lights is also an option.

Post-processing software can help improve certain aspects of bad lighting in photographs. However, it cannot wholly compensate for poorly lit images with severe exposure issues. It is best to strive for good lighting during the capture stage, as it significantly affects the overall quality of a photograph.

Good light is a type of light that enhances the quality and vibrancy of photos, while bad light is light that causes unbalance and distraction.

Good light can help you get the perfect shot by enhancing the colors and reflecting off surfaces excitingly.

One tip is to look for areas with natural shade, as this will help create a more even and smooth lighting effect.

A lower and softer key light is usually the best option for portrait photography, as it helps to create a flattering and natural effect on the skin.

While some corrections can be made to improve the quality of light, it’s always best to start by capturing good light in-camera.

Bouncing light off a nearby surface, such as a wall or ceiling, can help to distribute the light more evenly and avoid harsh shadows.

If the light is too bright, try moving to a shaded area or using a filter to reduce the intensity. If the light is too dark, try using a flash or increasing the ISO on your camera.

One way to avoid distracting elements is to focus on the quality of light and try to position your subject in a way that is not affected by unwanted objects in the background.

White balance helps to ensure that the colors in your photos appear natural and accurate, without any unwanted color casts or tints.

You can ensure good white balance in your photos by using a gray card or manual white balance setting on your camera or adjusting the white balance in post-production.

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