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Understanding Light - Part 2

by Brooke Tasovac (follow)
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The position of the sun as it moves across the sky, from morning to midday to afternoon, will affect where the light will fall on a subject. Check where the sun is in the sky in relation to the location you want to shoot in, before deciding whether to pose your subject behind it, in front of it, or off to the side.

Backlighting/Shooting Into The Sun

Shooting into the sun involves shooting a subject with the sun behind his or her back, rather than being lit from the front.

Pros: Backlighting can be a really lovely way to shoot, if you understand how to do it properly. A hint of sun flare, or burst of light behind a subject can help to bring out the highlights around the subject’s hair (as it has in the photo below), and it can keep the background bright, instead of flat.

Cons: The sunlight can hit the lens directly if the camera isn’t positioned properly, and blow out the detail in the frame with an excessive amount of light. On the other hand when the sun is behind a subject, even if the sun doesn’t hit the lens, there is likely to be a lot of shadow on the subject, and the photo can actually be underexposed, with the subject appearing as a silhouette, if suitable settings aren’t used.

For this reason, backlighting is a tricky technique to master and requires practice. For more information on backlighting read our tutorial.

Direct Light/Shooting With The Sun Over Your Shoulder

Shooting with the sun over your shoulder means the sun is behind you, and light falls directly onto the subjects, like in the photo below.

Pros: Direct light is an easy option when the light is soft and even. There are fewer shadows and better colour saturation. The image will be very sharp and the exposure will generally be good.

Cons: Having the sunlight directly on the subject, particularly the harsh midday sun, can make it hard for him or her to see, resulting in squinting, and can make skin tones flushed. There will also be a less perceptible depth of field because there is less gradation between highlights and shadows.

Side Lighting

Side lighting is a very dramatic way of lighting a subject. It can be done by placing the subject side-on so that half of their face is in shadow and the other half is lit, creating strong contrast, or it can just involve light entering the frame from one side only. Examples of both types of side lighting can be seen below.

Pros: Various combinations of light and shadow can be played up for dramatic effect, depending on how far away the subject is from the main source of light (either the sun or artificial lighting).

Cons: Because of the strong contrast, there can be technical issues that confuse the camera's light meter and histogram.

Take some time to pose a subject using all three of these types of lighting and see the different effects you can achieve with each one.

You may also want to read Part 1 of Understanding Light, on the blog.

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