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Tips & Tricks

D.I.S.C: Direction, Intensity, Softness, Color | The Four Pillars Of Lighting & How They Affect Your Image

By Kishore Sawh on February 3rd 2015


One of the ways I can spot a photography neophyte, or one that has poor taste (subjective), is through their understanding and usage of light. Often, a beginner’s focus will be solely on the exposure that light affords, and they often assume that such a thing as ‘perfect exposure’ exists, and that it means a subject or scene is evenly lit with perfectly balanced exposure.

If you’re reading this and have passed the stage of learning how to use your equipment and execute a desired look, you know that there’s more to it, artistic license – and all that. You’ll understand that lighting plays a tremendous role in how your subject is brought across, and thus perceived.

[REWIND: Have A Single Light Source? No Worries | Get 10 Great Lighting Looks From 1 Light]

It many ways, it is akin to the inflections of a person’s voice. The modulation and intonation present in how someone speaks, can carry with it more weight regarding mood and meaning than the words themselves. Lighting, is the same. Lighting, goes a long way in how a viewer will interpret your scene and subject. In a very basic form, think of how someone might hold a flashlight under their chin pointing up, as they tell a scary story – that harsh lighting and the strange shadows it creates can turn even the loveliest of faces into something horrid.


Understanding this will help you direct the viewer into thinking what you want them to think, and thus execute your images the best. As featured on the Still Motion Blog, a gathering of passionate film makers and educators, The Academy of Storytellers as a feature of Story & Heart, has released a video that may help you really ingrain this into your mind, and they break down the main points to consider with lighting into a handy acronym: D.I.S.C. – Direction, Intensity, Softness, Color.

These four lighting basics and their effects are conveyed in relation to lighting an interview, but the theory is sound and I think concise enough to be of help for photographers also. Each is discussed and shows in example, and the short video is peppered with tidbits of sound lighting advice. Sure, the beginners will have the most benefit, but I dare say that there are some more seasoned photographers out there who would do well to take heed. And really, the D.I.S.C acronym is so handy to keep in the back of anyone’s mind.

See a further breakdown and much more on the Still Motion Blog.

Sources: Still Motion Blog, Story & Heart, images are screen captures from featured video

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Graham Curran

    Works fine for me on Win 7.

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  2. Basit Zargar

    error on the video

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  3. Brandon Dewey

    I got the video to work!

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  4. Eric Mazzone

    Unfortunately I keep getting an error on the video. Invalid meta data for Vimeo. I think it’s related to my Mac because I get this often on some type videos.

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