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Photography is all about lighting, and as such, it's important to know about different types of lighting and the terminology used to describe them. While this article won't cover every kind of light you may encounter, it will give you a basic knowledge of the most common light jargon you will hear.
High-Key & Low-Key Lighting
These terms are used to describe the overall type of lighting for a scene. High-key lighting refers to lighting that is bright and even. This lighting technique is commonly used in TV sitcoms to provide a happy overall mood. There are very few shadows in high-key lighting. Low-key lighting, on the other hand, is very contrasty, with subjects and scenes containing both strong highlights and shadows. This sets a very dramatic tone to the scene, and is often used in drama TV series. Each lighting type has its own purposes, and choosing which style you'll use will depend on the final look and feel that you're trying to achieve.
Also known as back lighting, rim lighting highlights the edges of a subject. This is used heavily in commercial portraiture. The purpose of rim lighting is to create a more dramatic look and also separate the subject from the background. This is most apparent when the subject is shot against a darker background. The highlights on the edges of the subject will pull him or her out from the background, creating a definite separation between the two and putting more focus on the model.
Soft & Hard Lighting
This describes the quality of light. Soft lighting refers to diffused, even lighting while hard lighting refers to direct light that produces strong highlights and shadows. Soft light is often used for high-key lighting and hard light for low-key, though they can be used for either.
Spot & Flood Lighting
Most studio lights come with a manual control in which you can change the amount of spotting or flooding that occurs. This determines the amount of light spillage from your light source. When you spot the light, you create a tighter, more focused beam of light that usually has a quick falloff from the center to the edges of the lit area. Flooding will do the opposite and create a wide area of light with a very gradual light falloff from center to edge.
While a catch light is not actually a quality of light or type of light source, it is important to know. A catch light is simply a reflection of the light source seen in your subject's eyes. You could say that catch lights create that sparkle in someone's eye, as a person photographed with no catch light can often seem dull. A catch light adds life to you subject.
Image credit: Ricardo38 / 123RF Stock Photo
Written by Spencer Seastrom