The Importance Of Lighting In Family Photography

To an inexperienced photographer, the most important aspect of photography is the type of camera or lens you are using.

Sure, the type of camera and lens you have will affect the overall quality of the image, but that’s not the only important thing about photography. Lighting, for example, is just as important as the quality of the camera. 

The Importance Of Lighting In Family Photography

Take family photography for instance. Controlling the lighting in a family photo will completely alter the mood of the image.

A darkened image can make the family appear as if they are in mourning or danger, while an over-exposed, bright image can look too fake. So, knowing how to work with natural lighting and minimal editing is a must. 

If you’re new to the world of photography, and you want to know why lighting is so important, you’ve come to the right place. Here is everything you need to know about the importance of lighting in family photography. 

Why Is Lighting In Family Photography Important?

Let’s get into it. The reason why lighting in family photography is important is that the lighting will change the whole dynamic of the image.

Light of any form is referring to a source, whether that is a natural source of light (such as the sun) or artificial light (such as a candle). Both forms can immediately change the mood of an image. 

The last thing you want is to change the mood to a negative one in a family photo. Low-lighting might be useful for creating a moody and dramatic portrait, but not for an image that is meant to capture a family at, presumably, their happiest. 

Not only does the lighting affect the mood and dynamic of family photography, but the type of light source you use will also pick up on various small details.

For example, if you use hard light, this will bring attention to wrinkles, sharp angles, and skin details that the family might prefer to be smoothed over. 

To further understand why lighting is so important in family photography, let’s take a look at the different types of light sources and how they impact an image. 

Types Of Light Sources In Photography

Natural Light

One of the two forms of light sources in photography is natural light. As the name suggests, natural light comes from sources that come completely from natural sources, such as the sun and the moon. 

Natural light can also refer to lighting that isn’t controlled by the photographer and is found somewhat naturally in the environment, including street lighting and lights from storefronts.

Here is a good example of natural light using the sun as the light source. 

Artificial Light

Artificial light refers to a light source that is controlled by the photographer. This can include lit candles, photographic lights, flashes, lamps, and any interior studio lighting. 

Here is an example of artificial light using studio lighting as the light source.

Differences Between Natural And Artificial Light

While photographers will use both natural and artificial light sources in their work, there are clear differences between these light sources. 

Natural lighting is typically preferred amongst photographers that specialize in family photography, whether it’s capturing a group photo at a wedding or a photo to commemorate a birthday party.

This is because natural lighting captures the family’s most authentic and natural existence, making the viewer feel as if they were there to witness the moment in real time. 

Natural lighting also typically doesn’t feature colorful lighting. This means that no external factors alter the color of the image, which would create an unfair and unnatural portrayal of the reality of the photo. 

Artificial lighting, on the other hand, can be controlled more than natural lighting.

The one downside to natural lighting is that photographers cannot control the weather, so if they are photographing a family outdoors in cloudy weather, they will have to try various angles to ensure the right lighting. 

Photographers will sometimes use artificial lighting to set the tone of a photograph, making it appear more theatrical. Lighting can tell a story, whether it’s a portrait of someone lit gently by candlelight or a posed family photoshoot in a bright studio setting. 

On the other hand, most family photographers would rather use natural lighting, because it means they can move around the house or chosen setting to find the best angles that truly reflect the family.

Studio lighting restricts the photographer from trying different angles and positions, and makes the image appear more structured than realistic. 

Furthermore, photographers might have slightly more control with artificial lighting, but it also takes far longer to set up. With natural lighting, the photographer can take their camera out and start taking pictures immediately.

This also means that if the family is taking photos in their own home, they can move around the house without having to dismantle the lighting equipment. 

Hard Vs Soft Lighting

You’ve also got to consider the intensity of the lighting in family photography. There are two types of lighting intensity – hard and soft. 

Hard Lighting

Hard lighting is a high-intensity type of lighting that creates sharp shadows, and will make even the smallest details appear prominent. This can include wrinkles, fine lines, skin details, clothing details, and sharp edges. 

Hard lighting occurs when the light source is close to the subject(s) of the photo. Studio lighting is often the biggest culprit when it comes to creating hard light.

However, natural light can also be hard light, especially when the sun is at its brightest in the day. This is why photographers will typically take photos outside in the early morning or late afternoon while the soft isn’t so harsh. 

Soft Lighting

Soft light, on the other hand, occurs when the light source is at a greater distance from the subject(s). Natural sunlight is the best example of soft light, as it highlights the subject’s features in a natural and realistic way.

However, if the sunlight is too harsh and if the camera is too close to the subject, it can appear hard. 

Editing Family Photographs

All photographers will edit their pictures. They will often work with the subject of the photographs to see how much editing they would like done, providing before and after shots and various examples until they find the perfect image. 

For family photography, the editing is mostly minimal. This is especially true for photographs that use natural light with a soft intensity, because the distance of the natural light to the subjects will naturally blur out imperfections. 

Using artificial light, such as studio lighting, typically creates a hard intensity, resulting in sharp shadows and details.

The subject of the photograph might want this, but in most cases, family portraits are meant to be light and soft to capture the joyful reality of the family. 

Whether you’re the photographer or the family, it’s vital to communicate with each other to determine how much editing you want done.

Some subjects might feel comfortable with dark shadows and a moody setting, while others might want the appearance of their wrinkles to be smoother. 

Photographing Children

As we all know, children are incredibly unpredictable. This can be interesting to say the least for a family wanting a family photoshoot, because you never know what type of mood your child will be in.

You also won’t be able to predict or control their emotions, if they want to move around, or if they need to be distracted. 

Family photographers take this into consideration, especially when taking photographs in the family’s house. Kids are at their most natural when in their own environment, so if they want to move to another room to relax or play, the photographer can follow.

This is where the use of natural lighting comes in handy, because the photographer can move around the house with ease, and without the time-consuming task of dismantling artificial lighting. 

Photographers also have to consider how intense artificial lighting can be for newborns and young children.

Newborns are extremely sensitive to bright lights, so natural lighting is generally the best option to keep the child content while their picture is being taken. It also creates a relaxing atmosphere and develops a positive association with the photographer.

After all, studio lighting can be overwhelming for newborns, young children, and anyone with sensitivity to harsh lights. Unless you want the child to look like a rabbit in headlights in your family portrait, try to avoid taking photos in a studio setting.

Here is a good example of using natural light for a baby photograph:


So, there you have it! Taking photographs of a family or hiring a photographer to capture a special moment is a beautiful opportunity to celebrate a family.

The lighting is an incredibly important factor that must be considered in family photography, as even the slightest change in intensity or light source can alter the mood of a picture immediately. 

If you hire a professional photographer, they should use natural lighting with a soft intensity to keep the photograph looking natural and realistic – just as it should be. 

Laura McNeill
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