9 Unexpected sources of light for a striking photograph

  • picture of woman standing by a wall of ivy at night by Alice Che

9 Unexpected sources of light for a striking photograph

Most photographers prefer to photograph in natural light.

The sun is an amazing light source, but if you’re only taking photos when the sun is up, you might be overlooking some really awesome sources of light.

Here are 9 unexpected sources of light that can create beautiful, striking photographs.

1. Lantern light

A lantern was the perfect choice to illuminate the scene for my igloo photo. I bought this awesome LED lantern that looks like an old-fashioned one that you would light with kerosene and I love the charm it adds to photos.

In this one, it almost feels like I am exploring the arctic and came across an igloo. I often take my lantern with me when I go camping because it’s a great, portable, hands-free (if needed!) way to light a scene.

photo of woman holding a lantern by an igloo by Alice Che

2. Subway light

I would have never thought that you could get beautiful light in a subway, but Melina Nastazia proves that you can!

She took advantage of the light reflecting from the windows to get light on her subjects’ faces and still give a bit of a rim-lighting. I also love the reflection she has on the right side!

pic of dad and two kids on the subway by Melina Nastazia

3. Street light

This is one of my favorite sources of light at night! I like to find street lights that are a bit more isolated to get more of a spotlight effect.

With the light coming from above, I try to turn my face towards the light and look up slightly to avoid getting shadows under my eyebrows and nose.

picture of woman standing by a wall of ivy at night by Alice Che

4. Stage light

Stage lights are fun because they are pretty much designed to create a dramatic effect. In this photo of Melina’s you can see that she uses the hard light to cast a striking shadow that provides a great balance to her subject.

Another nice thing about stage lights is that they tend to provide quite a lot of light, so you don’t need to bump your ISO as much as you would with other light sources mentioned in this article.

photo of woman with her shadow by Melina Nastazia

5. Sculpture light

Next time you’re in a museum, keep an eye out for sculptures that are lit in a dark room.

This photo was taken in the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum and I used the light from two different sculptures – one to backlight and help me stand out from the background and one to illuminate me so I didn’t get a silhouette.

self portrait in the Seattle glass museum by Alice Che

6. Fountain light

This is similar to sculpture light! You can either use the light from a fountain to illuminate your subject, or you can use it to create more of a silhouette effect, like Melina did here.

The water droplets from the fountain also created some beautiful bokeh that adds interest to this romantic photograph.

photo of a couple kissing by a water fountain by Melina Nastazia

7. iPad light

Vironica Golden has an amazing series of photos of her children sleeping. She often puts her camera on a tripod to set a slightly longer exposure and holds the iPad close to her children to light them.

You can also play around with the creating fun shadows to strengthen your composition.

Read more on how Vironica photographs her kids sleeping here.

black and white photo of child sleeping in crib by Vironica Golden

8. iPhone light

This is similar to iPad light, you just have a smaller light source. Unless you have your iPhone right up against your subject, you will likely have to max out your ISO if you’re planning on hand-holding your camera.

One fun thing you can do is use an iPhone to light your surroundings during a long exposure to capture the stars. We chose to capture my shadow here, so we actually didn’t move the iPhone around at all.

In other photos where I did not have a shadow, I controlled the amount of light on each tree by shining the iPhone flashlight at it for a different amount of time.

star photograph by Alice Che

9. Overhead light

I tend to shy away from using the overhead lights in my house, unless I am shaping the light in some way.

My favorite way to shape the light is with doorways. In this photo, I controlled the spill of light by closing the door partially. The white door also acted as a reflector, bouncing light from the side to keep me from being a silhouette.

self portrait of woman in a white dress by Alice Che

Learn more about using bold light sources with Alice here.

About the Author:

Alice Che is a fine art and portraiture photographer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a romantic girly girl who owns over 40 dresses and adores all things dainty and beautiful. Her work tends to reflect her desire to add some whimsy, enchantment and beauty to the world, but it is also her way of sharing a bit of her heart. When dreams come tumbling down, it is photography she turns to to help her face the realities. She aspires to capture not just the hopes and dreams, but the fears and realities. Visit Alice Che online.


  1. Cynthia May 06 2016 at 4:37 pm - Reply

    These are such creative ways to use light! Very imaginative photographs.
    Likely By Sea

    • Alice C. May 09 2016 at 6:17 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much Cynthia! These are just some of the sources of light we touch on in Composing Boldly with Light 🙂

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