Photography Basics: Lighting

Lighting is one of the key aspects you will need to learn to be good at boudoir photography. From mastering natural light to learning how to replicate the lighting from photos you want to recreate, you will need a firm understanding of how to make light work for you. In this post I will cover the following topics:

  • Light Source

  • Hard vs Soft

  • Lighting Directions

  • Light Modifiers

Light Source

Where your light is coming from makes a difference in how your photos turn out. It affects your white balance and it can completely change the mood of your photo.

  • Natural Light: Sun light from either standing outside or streaming through a window.

  • Ambient: Light not coming from the sun is ambient light. Also called available light.

  • On-Camera: Either a built in flash or a flash that is mounted to the top of the camera.

  • Off-Camera: This is a flash or continuous light set up on a stand.

I suggest you focus on shooting with natural light first. After that you can practice with ambient lighting before moving to on-camera or off-camera lighting.


Hard vs Soft

Hard light in boudoir photography

Hard light, also called direct light, is light coming directly from your source without passing through a medium or being reflected off a surface. If you stand outside under direct sunlight you are experiencing hard light. Hard light creates deep shadows on your subject which you will usually want to avoid in boudoir as it can be unflattering. However, with experience there are instances where using deep shadows can add interest to your images.

Soft light in boudoir photography.

Soft light is also called indirect or diffused light. With soft light you are taking light from your source and using a medium to spread it out over a broader area. Soft light is more flattering as it doesn’t create the deep shadows that hard light does. Using a diffuser you can modify hard light to create soft light.


Lighting Directions

Depending on the direction light is hitting your model you can get an entirely different photo. Your three best options are front, side, and back.


Front lighting in boudoir photography.

Front Lighting is the most flattering, especially for portraits. Soft front lighting is even better.

Side lighting in boudoir photography.

Side Lighting is where you get the dark and moody photos you see boudoir photographers posting all the time. This is because light and shadow create dramatic photos.

Back lighting in boudoir photography.

Back lighting is used to create silhouettes and to have strong rim lighting. You can see an example of rim lighting in the next picture where the light is strong on her hair and right arm. To evenly light the face with back-lighting you will usually need some type of reflected light. This can either come from a reflector or a white wall in the room.

Rim lighitng in boudoir photography.

Light Modifiers

At some point your will want to manipulate light to your will. This is where light modifiers come into play. The two most common are diffusers and reflectors.


Diffusers, sometimes called scrims, are for turning hard light into soft light. One of the easiest diffusers you can get is a set of white shear curtains with a tension rod. You will see quite a few professional photographers use these in their studios.


Reflectors are used to bounce light onto your subject. The most common reasons for using a reflector are to fill in shadows on the face or light the front of your subject when they are back lit. The color of your reflector plays a part in how your finally image will look. This is why you will see photographers using a reflector that is either silver, gold, or white.


In Closing

Now that you have a better understanding of light, you will want to practice what you have learned. Try using direct light, indirect light, modifiers, and change lighting directions during a shoot. My suggestion would be to dedicate one shoot to learning each of the aspects I covered in this post. For the next Photography Basics article click the link below.

Photography Basics: Editing


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