You are currently viewing Photography Lesson: Learn to See Light

Photography Lesson: Learn to See Light

  • Post author:
  • Reading time:9 mins read
  • Post last modified:March 24, 2023

Artists look at the world differently than most. For example, an artist can enter a space and look around intently, noticing where the light is coming from, seeing patterns in the colors, noting how the elements in the room are placed and spaced, intuitively sensing what occurs in the space, and perhaps moving around the room to gain a variety of perspectives. I think artists see differently because they take the time to look and notice, and are creative, continually seeing things anew. We can learn to see like an artist too, simply by practicing! I want to explore what it is like to look at life from different perspectives and rediscover the wonders of the world.

Learn to see light

Today, I want to focus on light. I want you to notice how the sunlight streams through the windows of the different rooms of your home at different times. Light is constantly changing around us! What types of light do you find interesting or inspiring? Do you love the pattens between the light and shadows? Do you love the golden hues around sunrise and sunset? My hope is that soon you will begin seeing spectacular lighting in ordinary spaces and places.

Types of natural light

Once you learn to see light, it can transform the quality of your photos! Let’s examine six types of natural light and also check out an indoor and outdoor example of each type.

Front Light

Front light is when the light hits the front of your subject. This also means that the photographer has his/her back to the light. Be careful that the light isn’t causing your subject to squint.

son standing during a portrait session in Pittsburgh's Mellon Park
personal branding portrait of entrepreneur sitting in a restaurant

Back Light

Back light is when the light hits the back of your subject. This also means that the photographer is facing into the light. Many, including me, love the look of the light highlights around the outside edge of the subject. It’s also possible to use backlight to create a silhouette.

portrait of mother and son in a rural field at sunset near Pittsburgh, PA
Elopement wedding portrait photographed in Pittsburgh Court House

Side Light

Side light is when the light hits the side of your subject. This means that half of your subject’s face will be lit while the other half will be in shadow.

son holding dad's finger and walking during sunrise
lifestyle portrait taken near Pittsburgh by Laura Mares Photography

Golden Hour

Golden hour occurs an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset. When the sun is close to the horizon, there is a specific direction in the light and there is a golden hue. I love golden hour!

golden hour portrait of a girl holding a flower in Pittsburgh's Mellon Park
beautiful family holding newborn baby in modern boho nursery with their siberian husky looking at their baby

Soft Light

When light isn’t harsh, it is considered soft. It’s easy to notice soft light because the shadows do not have a distinct line.

senior girl dances in a field during senior photo session
A tender lifestyle image of a great grandmother with her great granddaughter. Photo by Laura Mares Photography, Pittsburgh Lifestyle Photographer.

Hard Light

When light is strong it is accompanied with harsh shadows. It’s not my favorite type of light, but I do enjoy working with it to create a variety in my work.

portrait of family in point state park, Pittsburgh, PA
A father giving his newborn baby a kiss. Lifestyle photo by Laura Mares Photography, Pittsburgh Newborn Photographer.

Questions and next steps

Send your questions in the comment section below. I love photography and am happy to help others on their journey. The next lesson will be on learning to see color. Stay tuned. 🙂 

Ready to document your story?

Let’s work together to create beautiful images that you can treasure for a lifetime!


Hi, I'm Laura Mares! I'm thankful to be a wife, mother and Pittsburgh lifestyle photographer. I photograph because I believe that life is simply beautiful and every person has a story worth telling. I'd love to tell yours.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.