Direction of Light
Light not only has the characteristics of being harder or softer, diffuse or sharp, but it also has a directional quality that you can use to enhance or your subject and, therefore, your images. There are typically three directions that we look at when discussing the direction of light.
Front lighting typically comes from a source that is behind the photographer and shining directly onto the subject. One of the characteristics of this type of lighting is that it tends to flatten out your subject. It’s kind of like putting your subject on a copy machine where everything is evenly illuminated. It does, however, offer a very well lit and defined subject (Figure 4.11).
Figure 4.11 When the light is coming from directly in front of the subject, there is less shadow and a flattening of details.
ISO 100 • 1/1250 sec. • f/4 • 200mm lens
If you really want to define the three-dimensional characteristics of your subject, the best possible light to use as a main light is side lighting. Side lighting will enhance any contour detail by creating shadows and highlights, giving a three-dimensional quality to the scene. This is why a lot of portrait lighting or landscape lighting is done with the light coming from a side direction (Figure 4.12).
Figure 4.12 The late afternoon sun was crossing in from the left of the frame, creating shadows and highlights that define the contours of the landscape and the cactus.
ISO 100 • 1/160 sec. • f/6.3 • 38mm lens
The best light to use for separating your subject from a background is, of course, back light. Unfortunately, back lighting provides little illumination on the front of your subject—which is what your camera is pointing at—but it does an excellent job of separating the subject from the background and giving a three-dimensional feeling to the shot.
Usually, a back lighting technique is used to enhance a silhouette or to provide a little separation in combination with other light sources. Typically, I’ll use this kind of light if I’m shooting a person in bright daylight. I might actually put the sun behind them, then use a flash to fill in the shadows on the subject’s face. That way, I have my separation using the back light from the sun, and I have an excellent light coming from my camera angle to define the face. Best of all, I don’t have bright sunlight shining into my subject’s eyes and making him squint. I get the best of all the characteristics of direction and quality of light (Figure 4.13).
Figure 4.13 By positioning myself so that the bright sun is behind my subjects, I can get a good rim of light to separate them from the background while using a flash to add a little light back into their faces.
ISO 200 • 1/250 sec. • f/8 • 48mm lens