How to Use Light in your Composition: National Geographic Photography


As a photographer, it’s important to know how to effectively use light in your composition.

Light is one of the most important elements in your photograph. It does more than just illuminate your subject – it can change an expression, exploit the nuances and details you might otherwise miss, or set the mood and tone for the entire scene. It can be the one thing that holds your composition together or a troublesome detraction from the point of your picture.

As National Geographic Photographer Annie Griffiths shows us, there is a lot more to proper lighting than meets the eye. Making it the first element you consider in your composition can drastically change your final results.

Discover a new way to create dramatic scenes by building your scene around your source of light and using that light to take viewers eye through your image or to feature key elements.

This helpful tip is just one of hundreds of techniques found in the course National Geographic Masters of Photography, available now to stream on The Great Courses Plus.

National Geographic Masters of Photography goes inside the creative process of the industry’s most sought-after photographers as they reveal their working methods, from the planning stages of an assignment through the painstaking execution.

Masters of Photography by The Great Courses for the article How to Use Light in your Composition: National Geographic PhotographyAcross 24 fascinating lessons, each professional uses his or her vast body of work documenting exotic locales around the world, as well as riveting stories of life in the field, to illustrate points and share invaluable expertise. As you explore their craft in units on Adventure, Wildlife, Landscape and Nature, People, Color and Light, and Storytelling, your guides take you far beyond Photography 101 territory into ground you’d never cover elsewhere—short of landing an apprenticeship with a photographer of this caliber.

These lessons also touch on fundamental concepts of lighting, composition, and using your camera, but they’re truly designed to help you learn to see as top professionals do, and to ultimately discover your own personal vision.

Each unit is presented by a pair of photographers, exposing you to diverse perspectives on how to achieve captivating results. In the end, you’ll come to see that having a good camera and knowing how to use it is important, but it’s only a tool. Taking great photographs requires technical skill, plus preparation. As Michael Yamashita says, “the difference between a good photograph and a great photograph is often a matter of inches or milliseconds.”

Elevate Your Photography with Essential Advice

In this visual feast of a course, you’ll gain insight on the elaborate process National Geographic photographers go through—both in the technical and artistic sense—from researching and planning a shoot to working a scene and waiting, often for hours, for the right elements to come together.

Guided by multiple experts, you’ll explore in depth the key three elements of great photography: good light, good composition, and a moment, as well as how to take advantage of the compositional concepts and principles they rely on every day. You’ll encounter specific techniques for:

  • taking action shots;
  • chronicling family life;
  • crafting poignant portraits;
  • creating striking silhouettes;
  • shooting in various weather conditions;
  • harnessing the light at dawn, at dusk, and every moment in between; and
  • approaching and working with subjects.

Every time you look through your lens, you’ll refer back to the secrets these top professionals share for constructing an extraordinary image, such as:

  • drawing the viewer in with leading lines and S-curves;
  • showing scale to communicate a sense of vastness;
  • using the rule of thirds to construct well-balanced images;
  • utilizing layering to create depth and interest; and
  • lighting scenes effectively—whether your source is the sun, a flashlight, event lighting, or your camera’s flash.

With these insider tips, everyone from the novice to the accomplished amateur will find ideas for enhancing their picture-taking skills. At the conclusion of each presenter’s session, you’ll be inspired to go out and apply your newfound knowledge based on an assignment outlined by the photographer.

Start your free trial of The Great Courses Plus and watch National Geographic Masters of Photography today!

Watch more National Geographic photography tips:
Sky Photography
How Do You Make Memorable Photographs?
Great Action Shots