characteristics of photography lighting

As a wedding photography editing service, we know the struggles you face when it comes to lighting. It’s unpredictable and every shoot brings something new. Seasoned wedding pros and educators, Justin and Mary Marantz, have spent years refining and mastering their lighting techniques. When it comes to understanding lighting, these two are some of the best in the industry. Today, they are sharing photography lighting tips you need to know to bring with you on every shoot.
justin and mary marantz headshot


Photography Lighting Tips

  • Do you ever find it hard to identify what “good light” looks like when you’re using a flash?
  • Do you wish that you could make the flash feel more natural?
  • Do you ever wonder what it is besides being “bright” that makes natural light look like natural light?
wedding party group photo
Image by Justin and Mary Marantz

For most photographers, when they think about what makes light good, tend to think of it only in terms of “brightness” or what we’re going to call Intensity. They see a bright image with a lot of pop to it or backlighting pouring into the image flooding it with a light and airy quality and they feel like that is everything that goes into an image having good wedding photography lighting. But there is SO much more to it than that! In fact, we identified 5 Different Characteristics of Light you should take into account when determining good light. They are:

  • Intensity
  • Direction
  • Relative Size of the Light to the Subject
  • Contrast
  • Color

Like we said, most photographers (when they are getting started with light) learn how to manage the first characteristic. They equate “bright” with a good quality of light (which make no mistake it certainly can be….if the other characteristics are there too!), and they focus in on managing that intensity by teaching themselves to shoot in manual and nail the exposure in camera every time. They manage the Intensity of their images every time. And that’s such an important ability and skill to develop! But it accounts for only one of the 5 characteristics of light that we should be thinking about every time.


1. Intensity

Intensity is basically how bright or dark the light is in relation to your exposure goals with ISO, shutter speed and aperture. For example, is this getting ready room so dark (low intensity) that I have to push my ISO to a point where I’m now getting noise/grain? OR, is this high noon First Look so bright (high intensity) that I’m going to have to start stopping down my aperture in order to get an image that isn’t blown out?

Related: How can you utilize off-camera lighting and create dramatic images during the wedding day?

2. Direction

Directional light is light that rakes across the subject from side to side (side lighting photography), from the perspective of the photographer so it creates a rich dimension and tonality from the pattern of highlights and shadows it creates. We believe direction is maybe the MOST important of the characteristics because it can literally make whatever you’re photographing appear more beautiful simply by moving your feet and changing that dimension.

3. Relative Size of the Light to the Subject

Most people, when they think of “harsh” light, think they are talking about contrast. But the truth is, what they are really seeing is the size of the light source. Simply put, the larger the light source the softer the light. And of course the opposite is true: the smaller the light source, the harsher the light. Whether you prefer to capture soft lighting photography or dramatic lighting photography, knowing the relative size of the light to your subjects is important.

4. Contrast

While relative size determines how “soft” the light appears, contrast is the one you want to pay attention to if you want to maintain a “light and airy” look while also benefiting from the pattern of highlights and shadows caused by direction. That is achieved by managing the fill (like with a reflector or white pillow) on your shadow side while exposing for the highlights.

5. Color

Finally, there is color. Color comes into play, both in choosing a white balance that creates clean white light on your subject that feels like natural light and also in making sure that you don’t have mixed color temperatures (like from tungsten overhead lights while also adding in a flash) at the time that you take the photo. Because that mixed light can’t be fixed later in Lightroom.

Okay, so once we know the types of lighting in photography to identify, next we have to think about WHERE we want to place that off-camera flash all throughout the wedding day to maximize those characteristics. That’s why we put together a download for you guys to grab that walks you through 7 of our own go-to favorite lighting diagrams Justin and I use ALL throughout the wedding day (from the getting ready to the sparkler exit!) that not only shows you where we put the light, but WHY we put it there to begin with! And the best part is….it’s totally FREE!

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