How To Ensure Bad Lighting

photographic lighting

If you follow the bad lighting advice provided here, you’ll never get a shot like this, which was made using a north-facing window as a beautiful, soft key light that’s ideal for portraits.

If poor quality lighting is your goal, from portraits to landscapes, here’s our advice for ensuring your lighting is never very good.

  • Learn a lighting rule and never vary it or stray from it. Become a one-trick pony!
  • Avoid sunrise and sunset, and lightly cloudy days, too.
  • Bring your own light at all times. If there’s nice ambient light, ignore it.
  • If one light is good, two lights are better. Three lights are better than that, and a bunch of lights are the best. Who cares if you don’t know what to do with them.
  • Never set the white balance manually. Use auto white balance all the time.
  • Take most portraits outdoors at midday with the subject facing the sun.
  • Don’t use a window—particularly, a north-facing window—as a key light.
  • Go in blind, not knowing what you’re shooting or where, or what the lighting will be.
  • Flat lighting is always the best lighting. Even illumination is preferable to light with shadows. Shadows, especially on faces, are wrong.
  • Never modify your light. Who needs softboxes, umbrellas, reflectors, snoots and scrims?
  • When you use a flash, make sure it stays right on top of the camera. Never bounce it off the ceiling or remove it from the hot-shoe. Keep it aimed directly at the subject.
  • If you find it difficult to light subjects and backgrounds separately, just have the subject stand close to the background and light them both with one light.
  • However many surfaces a subject has, light each of those surfaces the same value. For instance, if your subject is a box, light that box so that the front, top and side of the box all have the same brightness value. In this way you’ll mask all evidence of dimensionality and shape.
  • Make sure the light never matches the mood of the scene. For happy subjects, use dark and moody lighting. For dark and moody subjects, photograph them on bright backgrounds in high-key scenarios.
  • Eliminate all shadows. The more light the better.
  • When in doubt, add another key light.

If you follow these rules, you’ll be sure to make unattractive, unappealing pictures time after time. Or, of course, you could always do the opposite of this terrible advice and come up with some beautifully lit pictures. Good luck in your lighting adventure!

photographic lighting
The soft, even lighting of a lightly overcast day works well for photographing all sorts of subjects, and, in particular, it helps outdoor photographers focus on details for which normal sunlight would be too contrasty.

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