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Lighting 101

(Photo by Strobist reader Sam Simon)

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 few years, over four million people from nearly every country in the world have begun their lighting education right here. And 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 control every aspect of your electronic flash. If you can imagine it, you'll be able to create it.

You'll learn how to take the removable flash that you probably already have on 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.

The Good News: The Gear Doesn't Cost Much

Basic lighting gear is also refreshingly inexpensive. If you have a camera, lens and flash you have already done the spendy part. The gear needed to take your light off-camera is very inexpensive compared to your camera, your flash or even a single lens.

You can even make a lot of light modifiers yourself for next to nothing. Believe it or not, the photo above was done with a homemade light modifier. Sam Simon covered the opening of a shoe box with some paper and stuck his flash in a hole in the back. How cool is that.

For the most part, it's the location of the light that is most important. 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—who very recently may well have been exactly where you are right now—working with small flashes.

Click on a reader's picture to learn a little more about how it was made. (The uncredited ones are mine, mostly culled from my career as a staff photojournalist at a series of newspapers.) And don't worry if you don't understand the terminology yet. You will soon.

(Photo by Strobist reader Ken Brown)

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

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

(Photo by Strobist reader Benny Smith)

Learning how to light is incremental, creative and fun. There is almost no math involved, nor any difficult technical know-how. In fact, good lighting is less like math and more like cooking.

It's like, you taste the soup and if it needs more salt you add some salt. You'll see that when we learn to balance a flash with the existing, ambient light.

NEXT: Understanding Your Flash


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