Lighting 101

Welcome to Lighting 101.

You may not realize it yet, but you have just stepped through a door that may change your photography forever. Over the past 10 years, over four million people from nearly every country in the world have taken the dive into Lighting 101. If they can do it, you can do it.

Photography is literally writing with light. As you read through Lighting 101 you'll learn how to take control of your electronic flash. And soon, if you can imagine it, you'll be able to create it.

You'll learn how to take the flash that you probably already have attached to the top of your camera and use it off-camera to make beautiful, more three-dimensional photos. Once you learn the basics of controlling light, you'll quickly see that most lighting is intuitive, easy and fun.

It's Not Expensive

Strobist's Lighting 101, 102 and 103 courses are absolutely free.

Why free? Because when I was a young photojournalist, my colleagues graciously taught me for free. And this allows you to save your money for the gear you'll need to get your flash off-camera.

And basic lighting gear is also refreshingly inexpensive. You can build a well-chosen and solid lighting kit for under $150 that will turn your camera and flash combo into a wireless mobile studio. And then you'll be on your way to creating light like in the photos on this page.

If money is tight, you can even make light modifiers yourself for next to nothing. For example, take a close look at the photo on the top of this page. It was lit with a homemade light box. Strobist reader Sam Simon, who not very long ago was just as new at this as you are now, used a flash, a shoe box and some paper to create the light for that portrait.

It's the location and the quality of the light that is most important, not how much you spent. By getting your flash off-camera, your images become more three-dimensional, more textural and more professional looking.

All of the photos on this page were made by Strobist readers working with small flashes. Not so long ago, those people were exactly where you are now.

(Photo by Strobist reader Ken Brown)

The difference between their photos and yours is that they know how to use their flash off camera. They know how to remotely synchronize it with their shutter, position it, modify the quality of the light and tweak the balance of exposure between their flashes and available light.

Which is exactly what we'll be learning in Lighting 101. That may sound difficult, but I promise you it isn't.

Okay, Let's Get Started

(Photo by Strobist reader Benny Smith)

You may be a little anxious about learning how to light. Don't be. Learning this stuff is easy and fun. Good lighting is not about math. It is more like cooking. It's like when you taste the soup and it needs more salt—so you add some salt. You'll see what I mean when we learn to balance a flash with the existing, (or "ambient") light.

But before we get to that, let's look at the basic gear you'll need.

First we'll see if your existing flash is appropriate. (Don't worry, it almost certainly is.) Then, we'll walk you through the inexpensive kit you'll need to turn it into a mobile mini studio.

Don't worry if you don't know anything about this stuff yet. We are assuming exactly that and will help you make good choices.

NEXT: Is Your Flash Appropriate for Off-Camera Lighting?


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