Emphasizing Your Subject With Selective Lighting

One of the common questions that I get is how you emphasize your subject in a photo, so that the person or subject stands out against other background images.  Photography lighting is one of the tricks to bringing out a subject in your photo.  Understand that light is the closest thing that a photographer has to magic and if you can master the use of selective lighting in your photos, you will be able to draw attention to the subject.  Lighting can create a mood and causes an emotional response in the viewer of the photo.  So how do you best use selective lighting?  First of all, photography is an art and each person sees light in a different way and so there is not just one best way to emphasize your subject.  The key point to remember is that you want to “illuminate” your subject.  As a photographer, I use five different types of light and they are:

  1. Direct Lights
  2. Reflected Lights
  3. Diffused Lights
  4. Artificial Lights
  5. Natural Lights


No matter what type of lighting that you use, you want to bring attention to the lightest part of the image of the subject you are emphasizing.  You will many times use different lighting depending if the subject is a person or an object.  Here are a couple of selective lighting examples I like to use.


  1. Flowers – I like to use a black photography backdrop with a flash or strobe. This will create a vivid contrast between the colors of the flowers and the dark backdrop.
  2. Still-Life Image – continuous lighting works very well. With this, you will turn the studio lights on to the image.  While doing that, you might wish to play around with creating shadows for additional effects. However, the main emphasis is hitting the subject with the studio lighting to bring the still-life image to the fore.
  3. Portrait – for portraits, I always prefer natural lighting. You want an image that shows the person in the portrait in a natural state.


Remember that the purpose of Photography Lighting is to emphasize your subject, and there are several techniques you can use.  As you become more experienced with lighting, you will start to have your own preferences which you will implement with your photos.

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