08. Understanding light

Understanding light is key to great photography. Here, Karl tells you the four types of light that you need to know, which is best for your photography and how best you can work with different sources of light to create the perfect results.

He also touches on the “Magic hour” and why this is the best time to photograph if you want to create more interesting photographs. With two photography demonstrations in this class — one seascape and one portrait — you will learn how to use different light sources and their effects.

In the second half of the class you’ll also learn about reflectors and how you can use them as a powerful tool to enhance your portraits.

In this photography class we cover the following:

  • Understanding light
  • The best light to photograph in
  • How to photograph in manual mode
  • How to photograph using natural light
  • Using reflectors for portrait photography

To learn more about photographing with natural light, visit our Portrait section.

If you have any questions about this class, please post them in the comments section below.

NOTE: This course is available with subtitles.


  1. Hi Karl!
    When using an aperture of 1.2 and a distance of 1.9 meters, the sharpness zone is less than 10 centimeters. This means that if the model turns its head more strongly, one of the eyes will not be sharp. Which eye to focus on in this case and how to control it? Take some test shots?

    1. Hi Alex, I’d probably say at 1.2 it’s actually less than 10cm! But I would have to go with simply what works, often it’s the eye closest to the camera but it can depend on the way you light the shot, the mood the angles of the head etc etc. You can of course shoot at smaller apertures (as is the case for most beauty fashion shots).

    1. Hi Hein, so my general rule is what is the most important part of your landscape? Is it a tree in the distance, is it a rock in the foreground? Then build your shot around that using f11 or f16. If it was a rock say 4m from me then I’d be focusing about 15m into the shot at f16 and DOF and the wide angle lens would be taking me back to the rock and beyond the 15m. If it was a tree 100m away then I’d be focusing short of the tree knowing DOF would take me beyond the tree but I’d also gain some extra foreground by focusing in front of the tree. Every situation is different and I would recommend focusing then switching to manual focus and taking a test shot, zoom in an check the test shot and then adjust from there.

  2. I find the changing of light one of the hardest aspects to expose and something I need to work on. I think we all can get those dreary washed out exposures when we get it wrong! I seem to tend to underexpose often fearful of blowing out highlights. Landscape photography like this is one of the few areas you do not need modifiers, maybe a filter or two and a tripod to compete with the pros. Well explained. I do cheat a little editing in post adding grad filters on selections……but hey ho its a tool nonetheless.

  3. I understand the apeture at 1.2 in order to blur the background. I’m guessing you are focusing on the models eye.
    Won’t this cause other parts of her body to be out of focus?

    1. Hi Charles, yes your thinking is correct as 1.2 will be very shallow depth of field but it also depends on how far away your subject is, the further away then the depth of field increases.

      1. When using wide aperture like 1.2, where is the best point to focus on to ensure all the subjects body are in focus and the background is blurred out? And also in case where there are two subjects side by side and you want both of them to be in focus and the background blurred out, where will be the focus point be?


        1. Hi Babaatunde, it will not be possible to have all the body or two people in focus if shooting at f1.2 as the depth of field will most likely be too shallow, unless the subjects are further away. I’d always focus on the eyes but you will need to be thinking about using a smaller aperture for two people in the same shot.

    1. Hi Jaquelyn, the equipment information is on the page in the ‘equipment list’ at the lower right of the page. Thanks Karl.

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