It’s something we hear all the time but can’t be emphasized enough – light is everything.

Good lighting not only illuminates the subject in the image but also draws our eye to where we want the viewer to focus.

Learning how to use this light and controlling or manipulating it is crucial for an image to stand out as unique. Of course, composition and other technical details are important, too, but light is key.

Beautiful light is all around us. However, to see this and create dramatic images requires some learning.
Beautiful light is all around us. However, to see this and create dramatic images requires some learning.

Beautiful light is all around us. However, to see this and create dramatic images requires some patience and observation.

1. Be observant. Be patient.

Once we learn to slow down a little and start observing, we begin to appreciate the beauty surrounding us.

As a mother, I love photographing my children the most. However, I’ve learned that having a subject matter just for myself to feed my soul and inspire me is also important.

Taking a break from my usual subjects, I often wonder in my own backyard in the hope of finding things to photograph. When I’m out walking in my yard or out for a stroll, I’m always observing light and how it falls on the objects surrounding me – the ground and trees – as well as how it casts shadows and create light patterns.

Being an observant photographer is the first step in learning to manipulate and control light to create drama.

Beautiful light is all around us. However, to see this and create dramatic images requires some learning.

2. Have a vision in mind.

These images were created in my backyard. There’s nothing extraordinary in my backyard except that when I can, I like to sit outside and observe the morning and evening light.

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Once you begin studying and really observing light, you will begin to form a vision of how you want even a simple subject like a flower to appear in your final product.

  • Do you want the image to be bold and moody? Consider underexposing to allow the light to stand out in contrast.
  • Do you want the image to be backlit? Backlight adds a soft and gentle element to any image.
  • Or maybe you want to use side light and find a unique angle? This adds additional elements to create intrigue.

Having a vision in mind as to how you want your final image to look is important.

3. Add contrast and mood with light and shadows.

For most of my macro and still life images, I like to underexpose them a tad to bring out contrast. This adds depth and mood to the image.

Beautiful light is all around us. However, to see this and create dramatic images requires some learning.
Beautiful light is all around us. However, to see this and create dramatic images requires some learning.
Beautiful light is all around us. However, to see this and create dramatic images requires some learning.

I also experiment with creative lenses such as a Lensbaby. Creative lenses often add extra flare in a photo for uniqueness if needed.

Beautiful light is all around us. However, to see this and create dramatic images requires some learning.

4. Explore various lighting scenarios.

Outdoor backlight:

I use the Sigma 105 mm f/2.8 macro lens for most of my outdoor still life and macro images. With this lens, I can go to f/2.8 which is a good aperture to capture everyday life and macro if you want bokeh in the background.

While I don’t always shoot wide open with that lens, it is definitely helpful to have that capability. While a lower f-stop will bring in some haze in the image, you can also achieve this with a smaller f-stop depending on how you angle your camera towards the subject.

You can also deliberately increase the f-stop to capture some magical flares while still focusing on the subject with your macro lens. If needed, I’ll tilt my camera towards the light to let a slight amount of light in the frame.

By doing this while the sun rays are peeking through a tiny slim fence partition in your yard (this is just one example) creates that perfect flare while backlighting your image.

Related: The photographer’s ultimate guide to backlighting

Beautiful light is all around us. However, to see this and create dramatic images requires some learning.
Beautiful light is all around us. However, to see this and create dramatic images requires some learning.
Beautiful light is all around us. However, to see this and create dramatic images requires some learning.
Beautiful light is all around us. However, to see this and create dramatic images requires some learning.

Outdoor rim light:

For macro photography, I like to achieve a subtle rim lighting effect without losing the details in the image. Rim light is when your subject is beautifully highlighted by a strip of light. With this type of lighting, it’s important to retain the details of your subject.

Related: When and how to use these 8 types of photography lighting

Beautiful light is all around us. However, to see this and create dramatic images requires some learning.
Beautiful light is all around us. However, to see this and create dramatic images requires some learning.
Beautiful light is all around us. However, to see this and create dramatic images requires some learning.

Indoor side light:

When indoors, use natural window light to illuminate the subject. Using side light from a window is my favorite type of lighting when indoors.

With light and shadows in the frame, it creates a perception of depth and adds to the mood. Keep in mind that the closer your subject is to the window, the more contrast there will be between the light and shadows.

Beautiful light is all around us. However, to see this and create dramatic images requires some learning.
Beautiful light is all around us. However, to see this and create dramatic images requires some learning.
Beautiful light is all around us. However, to see this and create dramatic images requires some learning.

Unlike photographing kids who are ever moving, the good thing about shooting still life images is that you have the time to observe, plan and execute the image utilizing morning/evening light!