Lighting in photography: the key to professional images

POSTED by maxjan
6. February 2024


Lighting in photography is a key element and decisive for the quality of the end product. In this article we look at various aspects of ‘lighting in photography’, give ‘lighting photography tips’ and discuss specific tools such as ‘softbox photography’ and ‘LED ring lights’.

What lighting for photography?

Light for studio photography – types of studio lights

  • Daylight: Uses natural light that comes in through windows or other openings. Ideal for natural and soft lighting.
  • Continuous light sources: Provide a continuous light that allows the effect of the light on the subject to be seen directly.
  • Flash: Provides high intensity for a short time, ideal for freezing movement and creating dramatic effects.
  • LED ring lights: Produce an even, circular light that is particularly beneficial for portraits and vlogs as it provides soft shadows and even illumination.

Studio photography Lighting

  • Selecting the right light sources: The choice of suitable light sources depends on the desired style and effect of the shot. Different light sources such as daylight, continuous lights, strobe lights and LED ring lights offer different properties and benefits. It is important to choose the light source according to the atmosphere and the technical requirements of the project.
  • Positioning and effect: The positioning of the light sources is decisive for the design of the picture. The placement of the light influences the way shadows fall and how textures and contours are emphasized. Experimenting with different angles and heights can help to create the desired mood and depth in the picture. It is also important to find the balance between the main light sources and any fill lights in order to achieve harmonious lighting.

Which light for portrait photos?

Popular light sources for portraits

  • Daylight: Natural light coming in through windows can be particularly beneficial for portraits as it provides a soft and flattering light. It is important to consider the time of day and weather conditions to achieve the best result.
  • Softbox light: Softboxes are a popular choice for portrait photography as they create a diffuse and even light. They minimize harsh shadows and provide soft lighting that flatters the facial features.
  • Beauty dish: A beauty dish provides more direct light than a softbox and is ideal for emphasizing fine details and contours on the face. It creates a high-contrast yet soft light that is often used in beauty and fashion photography.
  • Reflectors: Reflectors are simple but effective tools for controlling the available light. They can be used to direct light onto the face, brighten shadows or emphasize certain areas. Reflectors are available in different sizes and surfaces (such as silver, gold, white) to achieve different effects.

Lighting design in portrait photography

  • Key light: The key light is the primary light source in a portrait shot. It determines the general lighting of the subject and sets the main accents. The positioning of the key light influences the mood and character of the portrait by emphasizing certain facial features or creating shadows.
  • Fill light: The fill light is used to brighten up the shadows created by the key light. It is generally less intense than the key light and helps to avoid harsh shadows and provide more even lighting of the face. The position and strength of the fill light can vary depending on the desired effect.
  • Backlight: The backlight is used to make the background stand out from the subject and create depth in the image. It can also be used to create a certain atmosphere or to emphasize elements in the background. The choice of intensity and color of the background light contributes significantly to the overall mood of the portrait.

What is a softbox in photography?

Definition and basics

  • Description and applications of a softbox: A softbox is a lighting accessory used in photography to diffuse and soften the light emitted by a light source. It usually consists of a translucent fabric that is placed in front of a light source, such as a flash or a continuous light source. Softboxes come in different shapes and sizes, from small, portable versions to large studio softboxes. They are often used in portrait, product and fashion photography.
  • Advantages of the softbox in ‘photo studio lighting’: The main advantage of a softbox is its ability to diffuse and soften the light. This results in more even lighting with less harsh shadows, which is particularly appreciated in portrait photography as it contributes to flattering skin tones and a natural depiction of facial features. In addition, the softbox allows more precise control over the direction and area of the light, which helps the photographer to achieve creative and atmospheric lighting effects.

What does a grid do on the softbox?

Purpose of the grid

  • Light diffusion control: A grid, also known as a honeycomb, is an accessory for softboxes that is used to control the diffusion of light. It consists of a grid of black cells that direct the light into straighter paths, thus reducing scattering and light loss. This enables more precise control over where the light falls and where it does not.
  • Creating directional light: By using a grid, the light can be focused on a more specific area, which is particularly useful when you want to emphasize certain parts of the subject or achieve more dramatic lighting. The grid makes it possible to concentrate the light on the subject without over-illuminating the background or surrounding areas. This leads to a stronger separation between the subject and the background and can be very effective in portrait and product photography.

What are the benefits of a softbox in photography?

Main advantages

  • Even illumination of the subject: One of the biggest advantages of a softbox is its ability to distribute the light evenly over the subject. This results in consistent lighting, which is particularly important for portraits and product photography. The even illumination ensures that all parts of the subject are clearly visible and fine details are emphasized.
  • Soft shadows and gentle transitions: Softboxes are known for producing soft light that creates gentle shadows and subtle transitions between illuminated and shaded areas. This is particularly beneficial for portrait photography as it results in more natural and flattering images. Soft shadows help to gently model the facial features without hard lines or contrasts, which are often perceived as unflattering.

How big does a softbox need to be?

Size selection and its effects

  • Dependence on subject and room: The choice of softbox size should take into account both the subject and the room in which the photo is taken. A larger softbox is advantageous for large-area subjects or group shots, as it offers wider light coverage. In smaller rooms or for portrait shots, a smaller softbox may be sufficient and is easier to position.
  • Influence of size on light quality: The size of the softbox has a direct influence on the quality of the light. Larger softboxes produce a softer and more diffuse light, which is evenly distributed over the subject and enables smoother transitions between light and shadow. Smaller softboxes provide a more direct and high-contrast light, which can be used for more dramatic effects. The decision on the size of a softbox ultimately depends on the desired mood and style of the shot.

How does a softbox work?

Structure and mode of operation

  • Light source and reflective inner material: A softbox typically consists of a light source located inside, surrounded by a reflective material. This inner material is usually silver or white to effectively reflect and distribute the light from the source. The light source can be a flash unit, a continuous lamp or an LED. The reflective inner surface ensures that the light is distributed evenly over the entire surface of the softbox.
  • Using the diffuser for soft light: A diffuser, usually made of translucent white fabric, is located at the front of the softbox. The diffuser scatters the light that passes through it, creating a soft, uniform light. This reduces harsh shadows and provides more natural and flattering lighting, especially for portraits. The diffuser is a key element in creating the characteristic soft light that softboxes are known for.


Lighting in photography’ is a complex subject that requires both technical understanding and creative skill. With the right ‘photo studio lighting tips’ and the use of aids such as softboxes and LED ring lights, photographers can achieve impressive results.