Photography & Light

Photographs are all about lighting. Sometimes you have plenty available light. Sometimes you don’t. Without enough light, pictures may be blurry, dark or grainy. Here are some basic lighting options that may help you understand what’s happening inside your camera.

NOTE: If you’re shooting a digital camera on an automatic setting, it will either raise the ISO or leave the shutter open longer to compensate. If your shutter is open longer, you have to be even more still, or shoot with your camera on a tripod to keep your image from showing movement.

Flag without grain
This photo was shot at a low ISO, avoiding excessive grain.
Grainy photo of Flag
This flag photo has excessive grain, which usually occurs from using a high ISO setting.













Use a higher ISO to raise your image sensor’s sensitivity to light. This can be helpful in low light situations, but be careful. You might get a picture you can see, but if you raise it too high you’ll most likely notice an increase in graininess. In film photography, your ISO is on the film your purchase. A good general film ISO is 400. Raise it above 800 and you’ll probably notice a little grain. If you’re shooting digital, you’ll want to check your camera’s manual or experiment with different ISO settings to see what amount of grain you find acceptable. As technology improves, so does a digital camera’s ability to use a higher ISO setting without resulting in grainy photos.

Slow down your shutter speed to allow in more light. A good average shutter speed is between 60 and 250 depending on the speed of the subject you’re shooting. The faster the movement, the faster the shutter speed needs to be. If you shoot at a shutter speed slower than 60, both you and your subject need to be incredibly still or have your camera on a tripod to avoid getting a blurry photo. In fact, you can slow the shutter speed so much at night that you can see the movement of the stars in your finished picture.


Light is light. Your goal should be to get the right amount of light to the right areas of your photograph. If you aren’t using a flash, or if your flash isn’t powerful enough for your subject, you may need to be creative.

Use light streaming in from a window or pick up some shop lights from the local hardware store. Any of these can produce an interesting effect. In fact, many normal household items can be used to reflect light. Use a white sheet, a mirror, a large white poster board or a sun-reflecting auto shade to direct the light you already have toward the area of your subject that needs additional detail. When using an auto shade, pay particular attention to the color of the reflecting material. They generally come in silver and a bronze or gold. If you’re photographing a person and want to give their skin a summer glow, use a bronze or gold auto shade.


One of the best things about digital photography is that you can shoot as many photographs as you want and really experiment with the lighting. Have fun with it. Try different lighting techniques and see how they work.

Just getting started? Here are some of my favorite retailers and information sources.

Author: tatumlyles

Tatum Lyles Flick is a public relations practitioner, news and science writer, photographer, graphic designer and website designer with experience in industry, the news media, and academia.

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