The Three Properties of Light

img_0014.jpgToday is one of those days that I wanted to take a step back to some basics again. This time I want to talk about the three primary properties of light, and since what we are doing as photographers is recording light, it is important to know how these properties play into getting a good image. While I had studied this before, attending a recent seminar from Ed Pierce made me realize that many reader may never have seen these concepts before.


The first property of light that we want to look at is Quantity. This is the amount of light that is hitting the subject. You have several ways of adjusting the amount of light the camera will see. In some cases you can adjust the light output of your lights or use diffusers to cut down on the light if you have too much. You should all know that you can also adjust your aperture or shutter to adjust the amount of light coming into the camera. With DSLR’s, don’t forget you can also adjust your ISO setting. With four main ways to adjust for light quantity, this is one of the more versatile of the three properties.

The light quality is one of the more confusing properties and the one that gives new photographers the most trouble. Quality is not about the color of the light, it refers to whether the light is very harsh and will cause hard shadows, or is it softer with smoother shadows. The quality of the light will affect the overall contrast. The way we adjust the quality of light is by changing the apparent size of the light source. The reason this is confusing is that you initially think that the close a light is to the subject, the harsher the light will be. In fact, the exact opposite is true. The closer the light is to the subject, the larger the light source will appear to be. Take the Sun as an example, far and away the largest object in our solar system, but because of the distance, it acts as a very small diameter light source causing harsh shadows. If you only have a small lightbox, moving it close to the subject will make it appear much larger and thus will soften the shadows and provide a more pleasing light source.

Harsher Side Light
Softer Side Light

The third property should be fairly simple to understand. The light direction will also affect shadows and the final image quality If you are using small lights, you can simply move them in order to create a more flattering light angle. If you are using window light, or other unmovable light source than you can still change the orientation of the subject to the light source.

Side Lighting
Direct Frontal Light
While these may seem like very basic concepts, learning how to use these techniques can make a dramatic difference in your images. Get your lighting kit together, find a model, and practice, practice, practice as well as develop a style that you like.
We would like to thank our model Angela for helping us with our shoot today. You will also see Angela in some other upcoming articles.
Equipment Used

Camera Canon 30D
Lens Canon 17-85
Lights Westcott Spiderlite TD5‘s
Capture Software DSLR Remote Pro
Model Angela Hart

Come the the Flickr User Group to discuss this and other topics.


Kerry Garrison lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with his wife and two dogs. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 5 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms.

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3 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

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  2. Has read with the pleasure, very interesting post, write still, good luck to you!

  1. April 1, 2008

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