photography lighting basics

Knowing photography lighting basics to use to light your subject, regardless of the situation you are in, can often be challenging. There are several variables to consider, from determining what your flash settings should be, to knowing if you should use a reflector, to using the proper placement of your subject in relation to the light. Add a wedding day timeline into the mix, and you can be left feeling quite overwhelmed. How can you work with light in the proper way to help you create images you desire?

Photography Lighting Basics

Here at ShootDotEdit, we provide wedding photo edits for professional photographers. We also partner with industry leaders to bring you valuable information you can use for your business and photography. In our Online Training: How I Lit the Shot: Lighting Tips from Real Wedding Photos, Brett Florens shared:

  • Specific lighting insights for some of his actual wedding images
  • Quick tips to use a reflector to enhance natural light
  • Off-camera lighting techniques you must use on your next shoot
  • Tools you need to successfully capture images in low lighting

We gathered 5 of the best lighting tips and tricks from Brett’s Online Training and put them together in this post. Take a look below to learn more.

About Brett Florens

Internationally acclaimed South African photographer Brett Florens launched his career while fulfilling national service obligations. He has since moved from photojournalism to a successful career in wedding, commercial, and fashion photography. Brett has accumulated numerous accolades, including the distinction as a Nikon® Wedding Photographer.

1. Identify Available Light

When you are on location, one of the first things to do (and one of the photography lighting basics) is identify the available light. If you are indoors, what type of lighting is available? If you are outdoors, what time of day is it and can you use natural light? While shooting during the day, are you working with harsh or soft lighting? For night shoots, is there available street lights or is there any light coming from the sky? When you determine what light is available in your location, you can then decide if you can work with it or if you need assistance.

wedding photography in the desert with a camel
Image by Brett Florens

2. Bring a Reflector

Sometimes, the available or natural light is not enough to help you create the images you desire for your couple. To help manipulate available light, and avoid bad lighting photos, bring along a reflector. A reflector helps you bounce light onto your subject. This is especially useful when there is unfavorable lighting in your location.


When shooting indoors, you can work with window lighting or other available light to bounce light from the wall onto your couple. As you shoot outdoors, you can reflect the light onto your couple from surrounding buildings, walls, or ground. With a reflector, you can create studio quality lighting in any shooting situation, which will thrill your couple.

During some parts of the wedding day, you may not want to use a reflector. These moments may be as you are running around capturing fast moments. A reflector is best used while you have more time, especially during the bridal or couple portraits, or even during the family formals.

Brett’s Gear

One of the pieces of photography gear Brett mentioned during the Online Training is the type of reflector he uses to create the lighting he desires. Brett uses the SunBounce Sun-Mover.

According to BH Photo Video, the SunBounce Sun-Mover is:

“A flexible and versatile light-shaping tool, the silver/white Sun-Mover Pro from Sunbounce is a 33″-wide collapsible oval reflector. The oval shape benefits from two integrated handles, allowing you to control the focus or hardness of the reflected light by bending the screen in a convex or concave manner. The reflector is kept taut by a spring steel frame for consistent results, and also collapses for greater portability or storage.”

The Sun-Mover bends and holds the shape. You can bend it to create a softer look, and you can also concentrate the ambient light or sunlight with it to add contrast.

Quick Tip

If you work with a second shooter or assistant, train them to manipulate light with a reflector. This can help you move quickly through the shoot and capture images, while your second shooter or assistant helps with the reflector. Most reflectors are simple to use and can create the light you desire in even the most unfortunate of scenarios.

Suggested Read: Best Photography Lighting For Cold, Rainy, Or Snowy Wedding Portraits

3. Utilize a Scrim

Other photography lighting basics and tools you can use to manipulate light include a scrim, which assists you in diffusing the light that shines on your couple. A scrim can work as a softbox. There are various shapes and sizes for scrims, and it can be easily added with the gear you bring on a shoot. Using a scrim is helpful when you shoot in harsh or intense light with your couple because it helps them to keep their eyes open and not squint. A scrim also allows you to avoid blowing out their features and creates a flattering look for your couple.

Quick Tip

There are several options for using a scrim with your wedding photography. You can purchase a scrim or even create one yourself. For more details on how to create your own scrim, SLR Lounge put together an article that explains how to do this for under $50.

4. Use Speedlights for Dark Locations

Some of your wedding shoots will be during the day, and others will happen as it gets dark. As per the photography lighting basics, when the sun goes down, you can shoot at a higher ISO to capture the images you desire. This is when it can be necessary to create artificial lighting. Brett suggests using your speedlight when you go into a lower light situation. Instead of using your speedlight as a flash, you can adjust the settings and use it as an autofocus device.

When you fire the trigger, your flash will not fire. It will use the infrared beam to focus in the dark. With so many people moving, especially during the reception, you want to make sure your focus is on point. To avoid bad lighting photography, use the speedlight to focus in low light conditions and capture the important images of the day.

Brett’s Gear

Nikon Speedlight SB-900

Some of the key features of the speedlight, according to Nikon, are:

  • An indispensable portable light source
  • Has precise flash exposures
  • Allows for freedom with flash head positioning
  • Has hot shoe and wireless capabilities
  • Controls up to 3 remote speedlight groups
  • Unlimited compatible speedlights
  • It has expanded auto power zoom coverage for lenses

There is also the 910 and 5000 you can use. They all have similar features, but one of the secret features according to Brett is:

“If you go into the menu on the back of the speedlight , hold down the OK button. Go into the submenu and go down to AF. You can see there is an icon with a flash with 6 little dots coming out of it. If you go into that submenu and select AF only, you are using your speedlight as an autofocus device only. When you fire the trigger, your flash is not going to fire. It only uses the infrared beam to focus. You have to shoot on AFS, which is single point.

Click OK again so you are out of the menu. You can see on the right-hand side it says AF-ILL ONLY. It means it is autofocus illumination only. The reason I use that is because it is pretty tricky to focus in the dark. If you have moving subjects , you want to make sure your focus . You could use this in the church if you wanted to. I generally use it in low light after dark.” – Brett Florens

The great thing about using a speedlight in low light conditions is you do not have to worry about not focusing. You will have the ability to shoot quickly as needed and capture images your clients will love.

Quick Tip

Over the years, Brett has placed a focus on shooting in low light and how to manipulate the background of the images. He shares that you can control the intensity of the background. With this, you can make the background as light or dark as you want it to be (meaning you could make it pitch black if you wanted to). Not only can you change the luminosity of your background, but you can also control the background color. The adjustments you make depends on your unique photography style and creativity. Learn more about how to obtain these skills with Brett during his mentor sessions and workshops.

Suggested Read: Night Photography Tips: How To Shoot Outdoor Receptions

5. Practice Lighting Techniques

There are always new lighting techniques for you to use during your shoots, and it takes time to adjust to new skills. Rather than practicing your skills during the wedding day, schedule time to practice outside of a professional shoot. Get to know your camera better, and what its capabilities are. If you are unsure of how high the ISO can go, shoot at different ISOs until you get to the maximum of your camera.

“Don’t say to yourself, ‘My camera can’t go above 6400.’ Go out and shoot images at 400 ISO, 800 ISO, 1000, until the maximum ISO of the particular camera you have. Then, go back and perhaps print the images you shot and decide what the threshold is for your camera and how you feel it handles low light conditions. I shoot with the Nikon D5 and D750 and I can easily shoot at 10,000 ISO, perhaps 20,000 ISO sometimes. I don’t need it because generally, I am shooting with the Rotolight LED panels, which means I can probably shoot comfortably at 2000 or 4000 ISO with great lighting results.” – Brett Florens

The more you practice, the easier it will be to understand how to make good lighting for pictures.

Suggested Read: Fast 5: Simple Lighting Techniques For Wedding Photographers


At the end of the Online Training, we asked Brett how to know exactly which lighting technique or photography lighting basic to use during the wedding day. See his response below:

“I shoot to sell. While I’m shooting, I have the album layout in mind. When I’m shooting a specific image, it falls within a chapter in the album. I create chapters for the whole wedding (detail shots, bride/groom preparation, ceremony, family formals, etc). Within those chapters, I segment with subchapters and then, I think about who will buy the particular image.

Now, if I had to take the couple portraits, I combine the lighting techniques with posing techniques. I am not going to pose people in a natural way and then light them with off-camera flash. I’m going to pose people in a natural way and then light them with natural light. I’m going to pose them in a fashion pose and then light them with off-camera flash. It all feels authentic. If I’m shooting with off-camera flash, I want people to know it is a fashion shoot. If I’m shooting naturally lit images, my target market is a little different. The mom is going to like the images more, and I’m going to make sales from the mom. I’m going to shoot images the mom likes with natural then, and then I’m going to shoot images that are more geared toward the bride’s taste with off-camera flash.”

Free Guide: Lighting for Wedding Photographers

Mastering photography lighting basics can help elevate the quality of your images and allow you to shoot in any location. Since wedding photography lighting techniques are constantly changing, what else can you do to stay up-to-date with your skills? In The Lighting Guide for Wedding Photographers, expert Roberto Valenzuela shares key lighting scenarios from his #1 bestseller book, Picture Perfect Lighting. Our free guide, created in conjunction with Rocky Nook, dives into:

  • Adding flash to any image, in any location, with accuracy
  • Understanding and applying backlight, fill light, window, light and direct sunlight
  • Assessing and utilizing the different types of available light for every shoot

Further Read: 9 Simple Tricks To Using A Video Light

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published