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Lighting in photography


Students will examine different sources of light in photography to decide how lighting affects a photo’s impact.  Then, students will learn different skills about lighting in photography.  Finally, students will practice using lighting tips and tricks by taking photos and discussing those photos during an in-class activity.


  • Students will learn about different types of lighting in photography (front, side, back, open shade, window).
  • Students will learn tricks for adjusting a photo to accommodate for lighting issues.
  • Students will be able to apply previous knowledge in order to participate in informal discussion and critique about photos’ strengths and weaknesses.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues. Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.


Two 45-minute lessons

To shorten this lesson to one day for use in the nine-week module, teach Day 1 of the lesson exclusively, delete the photo assignment and give students any remaining class time to experiment with what they’ve learned in class.


Slideshow: Lighting techniques

Lesson step-by-step

Day 1

1. Slideshow — 10 minutes

Show students the first few slides of the “Lighting Techniques” presentation.  For each slide, ask students to comment on how the lighting affects the photo’s subject.  Is the light complementary or does it detract from the photo’s impact?  Could the light be improved in any way?

2. Slideshow — 25 minutes

Go through the slides about different types of lighting (front, back, side, window, open shade).   Then, show students samples of different photos (consider looking for photography resources online like a “Best of 2013” photography site) and ask students to identify the type of lighting in those photos.

Then, go through the rest of the slides (“Tips for Improving Lighting”).  For each slide, give students time to write down the tip and discuss how the tip affects lighting for the photo.  (For the tips that are bit harder for students to visualize, consider having students discuss or debrief with a partner)

4. Assignment — 10 minutes

Instruct students that between now and tomorrow’s class, they will be required to take a photo or a pair of photos using a specific skill that they learned in class today (see below for the List of Photos that you can assign students to take).  Assign photos to students and/or groups of students.  Explain that tomorrow during class, students will be showing the rest of the class the specific photos they were assigned and discussing the process they went through to take the photo.

Day 2

1. Preparation time — 5 minutes

Give students a few minutes to make sure they have adequately saved their sample photos to a central digital location for access/critique.

2. Presentation — 35 minutes

Have each student or partnership stand up, explain what photos they were assigned to take, show the photos to the class, and discuss what they think about the quality of the photos. Allow students to weigh in and discuss which option is better and why.

List of sample photos for students to take:

  1. Portraits of someone facing away from the sun and facing toward the sun
  2. Portraits of someone standing in a doorway (one portrait of the person facing outdoors and one of the person facing indoors)
  3. Portrait of a person in front of a window (with the window in the background) and near the window (with the light from the window hitting the person’s face)
  4. Picture of a semi-darkened room without the flash and with the flash
  5. Portrait of a person (or pet) indoors both without the flash and with the flash
  6. Portrait with a bright, narrow source of light (the sun, a lightbulb) directly behind a person
  7. Portraits of a person with a narrow light source (a lamp without a lampshade) nearby. In one photo, aim the lamp at the individual, and in another photo, aim the lamp at a wall near the individual.


For the “sample photo” assignment, it may be a good idea to give the more complex assignments (such as the ones involving bouncing light) to advanced students and the simpler photos to beginners.  This will allow all students to successfully complete the task that is given to them while still being challenged accordingly.