In my profession being being about to look at any image and read the lighting pattern is not an easy, yet essential skill. As the lighting determines the outcome of the entire image. When you learn how to read the light, you will be able to tell what modification tools were used, difference between fill lights, and key feeling, the position of the lights, etc. Yes, I can tell all of this just by looking at an image, which is just one of the many perks of being a professional fashion photographer.

As I know how to read the light, it helps me set the perfect lighting before a shoot. This saves the time of taking images, and then going back to adjusting the lights. But I have to say, the learning process was not an easy one. As there are a number of components of the properties, and the light itself. Just because I had to learn the hard way, does not mean you have to as well. To help make the learning process easier, I have divided the process in 2 parts.

the two main aspects that will help you when you are looking to understand how lighting determines the outcome of your image or portrait.

  1. Key light – this will be the brightest, and the main light used. It helps in influencing the main subject, and helps gain the best outcome. When looking for ways to identify the key light you need to keep two things in mind position, and the shadow transition.

    The position can be determined by looking at the nose, as it’s an automatic sundial. Another way is by looking in the eyes, as they reflect light. So when you look at them both combined, you will be able to guess how far the key light was placed, and at what angle.

    Now, to help understand shadow transition better. You need to tell what kind of modifier was used. To determine this you need to look for the highlights and shadows. If there is a visible hard transition, between the highlights and the shadows, then a hard light source is used. However, if it’s opposite, a light and soft modifier were used. Learning about the modifier is important, as there will be a time when you need to learn what modifier must be used.

  2. Fill Light – once you have understood the key light, then you need to understand the fill light and how they are used. As the key light at times can cause a number of shadows, due to its position, you need a fill light to help modify the shadows a little. Let me tell you from experience, that identifying it is not easy. As it’s entire job is to be subtle, and at times we use more than one to help fill out all the shadows. So it’s better to practice, then trying to identify them.


These are the two main aspects that will help you when you are looking to understand how lighting determines the outcome of your image or portrait. Keep in mind that is not all that are used, there are times when I use extra elements and light to add more dimension to an image. These extras can simply help you can the entire look of the image. Some of the light and the extras that I use are background lights, Kickers (hair lights), and Cucalorus (flag).

As this is just a short guide it won’t be able to tell you everything you need to know, but I have made sure that you understand the basics. As this will help you a great deal. As the base of understanding is the main part, if your base is strong you will be able to build a huge mansion on top of it.