Week #20: Single Light Source

To be shot and submitted between Sunday, May 10 and Sunday, May 17 (noon, Eastern)

It should be no surprise that lighting is a pretty integral part of photography (the word “photography,” after all, means “writing with light). However, many budding photographers avoid learning about the proper use of light, because it strikes them as too technical, difficult or scary.

Well this week, we are going to demystify the world of Lighting.

The best way to begin learning about light is to use just one, single light source. That way you’ll be able to easily manipulate the direction of the light’s rays, and immediately discern its effects on your subject. So this week, take care to use just that one light source. Be it the Sun, your camera’s flash, or a floor lamp (or anything else! get creative!), be sure that no other light sources are present in the environment that could complicate things. So, for example, if you’re indoors, make it pitch black and then turn on your single light.

If you are planning to use the Sun, we encourage you not to simply walk outside and snap a pic, and call it ‘single light source’. Really push yourself to find a strong directional light, produced by the sun, creating dramatic lights, shadows, contours, and lines. See this photo by Joanna Braunold (One Light Source, Week 46, 2013) as an example of what we mean (her photo was indoors, but still, the Sun is providing the single light source). Take a look also at this photo by Shani Shalgi, from the same challenge.

Of course, lighting isn’t all about the light – you can’t have light without dark (which is a pretty profound reminder for life, by the way). So in addition to paying attention to the effect of your single light source, pay extra close attention to the shadows that it creates.

Tips and Tuts for this week:


  • For a great overview of lighting in general, check out The Strobist’s Getting Started Guide
  • Here’s a great resource we found, with amazing photos and their lighting breakdowns. See how many you can reverse-engineer before you click through to see the lighting setups.
  • Check out this cool “lighting emulator” where you can see the different effects of various lighting patterns, without leaving your chair!

Looking for more inspiration? The Outside Your Comfort Zone album from 2014 has lots of photographers trying new things and facing their fears (see the Extra Credit!)

Extra Credit: Artificial Light Source

Obviously if you shoot outdoors, the sun can serve as your single light source. But to get your extra credit this week, use an artificial light source – a flash, a light, a flashlight, etc. Set yourself up in a totally dark room, position your single, artificial light source, and start experimenting!
Remember, it is not necessary to work in this Extra Credit piece. It’s extra credit!