All of your favourite photographs, regardless of their subject, have one thing in common: great lighting.

Fortunately, understanding light doesn't have to involve pricey equipment and years of education. Patience and practice will lead you to the most amazing opportunities, ones that will help you capture a WOW photo of absolutely anything. Using the tips below, you'll be able to take incredible photos with your smartphone, no matter where you are.

Let's begin!

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Types of light worth embracing

Just because your photos look too harsh or overexposed doesn't mean you're a horrible photographer. In this situation, the culprit is simply bad lighting! Experimenting with the right types of light will help you understand both lighting and your smartphone on a much deeper level.

Well-lit photographs are a result of well-lit environments. An example of this is the golden hour, which is a time of day shortly after sunrise or right before sunset when the sun's light is neither too harsh nor too weak. This perfect lighting creates a golden atmosphere ideal for smartphone photographers of all kinds.

Another example worth embracing is diffused light. Cloudy, gloomy days don't have to be your creative enemies. Clouds create a soft glow which can be enhanced using a reflective substance. If you don't have a professional reflector at hand, make one yourself using a sheet of paper or any white material. Even foil will do! Your DIY reflector can then be used to reflect the cloud's glow and make your subject's face stand out.

Types of light you should avoid

When you get to know your smartphone better, you'll have more confidence to experiment with unusual lighting situations. In the meantime, it's important to avoid unflattering light. For instance, midday light is very harsh due to the sun's position in the sky. Unless you want to include harsh shadows in your photographs, don't take photos during this time of day.

Diffused lighting tips for smartphone photography

Other types of light worth avoiding are oversaturated artificial lights. If you're a portrait photographer, this light will alter your subject's skin tone and make it harder for you to edit the results later on. Though artificial light is certainly helpful, try to avoid experimenting with intense colours for the time being.

Indoor directional lighting - smartphone photography lighting tips

Why directional lighting is important

Directional lighting involves the interaction between your subject and your source of light. Understanding how to place your subject (or move around it) to capture its best possible sides will help you take breathtaking photographs with your smartphone. There are three main types of directional lighting:

  • Front Lighting - Well-lit, even lighting like this is ideal for landscape photography, but don't confuse it with harsh midday light! Front lighting can be used on cloudy days or when the sun is about to rise or set.
  • Back Lighting - Backlight is often used during the golden hour. Portrait photographers flourish when it comes to this type of light. When the sun is behind your subject, you can create interesting silhouettes or use the sun's rays to create elegant light halos around your subject. The results are cheerful, golden, and visually appealing. Back lighting is used in a variety of photography genres, so make sure you experiment with it as much as possible.
  • Side Lighting - This involves exposing half of your subject to a source of light, be it artificial or natural. Side lighting creates fascinating shadows, accentuates exposed features, and highlights textures. Still life photographers use this kind of lighting to enhance the natural texture of objects. Portrait photographers often use side lighting in studios to create a sense of mystery.
Lighting tips for smartphone photography - ios iphone and android

How to handle bright backgrounds

If you're working with back lighting, an overexposed background will result in unnecessarily bright photos. To fix this issue, use your smartphone's brightness slider to handle the amount of light that enters your camera. This is one of the many quick tips shared in day one of the free smartphone photography course.

Tap and swipe vertically (iPhone) or horizontally (some Androids) to access this brightness (exposure) slider. If this feature isn't available - download a camera app that provides you manual photo-taking controls, like ProCam 5 for iOS or Camera FV-5 for Android.


Now that you're familiar with various types of lighting, you're ready to photograph the world! Remember to avoid harsh lighting - if you HAVE to take photos when the sun is at its peak, find a shaded area and take photos there. Experiment with front, back, and side lighting to strengthen your observation skills.

Most importantly, get to know your smartphone's camera features - they will help you take the best possible photos of your loved ones, nature, and anything that catches your eye. Before you know it, you'll be a master of light and a very proud smartphone photographer!

Good luck!

Author - Taya Ivanova

Portrait photographer, editor, and 500px ambassador

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