Using Light in Photography

posted on 4th of february, 2010

Light. It affects everything we do. Without it, we could see nothing. Our photographs would look strangely similar...plain black. Light can be what sets one photograph above another. This brings to mind when I went to the local fair this summer. Of course I went to the building with the photography exhibits. As I was browsing the pictures, I came across two prints of Mount Rushmore. They were almost exactly the same shot as far as focal length and composition went. The difference was the light. One was taken on a clear day. The sky was cloudless and a washed out blue. The light was harsh, and there were severe highlights and shadows. The competitor's shot was taken on a day with thin dappled clouds. It had a very pleasant sky--not grey, or washed out blue--but just very nice clouds. The resulting light was a soft, warm, diffused light. The landscape was a warm color and was very evenly lit, although not lacking soft shadows. It was obvious which was the winner- and all because of the type of light.

I'm going to touch on a couple basic types of light. This is a very commonly discussed photographic topic, so I won't do it justice. I'm not an expert either, but I'll do what I can. I'll first talk about the various directions of light, then I'll go through the types of light.

To start with, we'll discuss the front light.

This landscape is almost lit with a complete front light. There are still some shadows, but you get the idea. Front light is the least appealing. It does not reveal details as other lights do. The image looks FLAT. The reason I have front lit images is because I was not able to be at this landscape during a more appealing time of day.

The next direction of light I'll bring up is the side light. The side light is much more appealing than the front light because it reveals details in the texture on the object. It gives a sense of depth to the image.

The most dramatic direction of light is the backlight. This reveals the shape of the object.
With silhouettes, this emphasizes the outline of the object. With translucent objects, such as the hoarfrost crystals, it shows this textures and patterns in the substance of which the object is made. This light can be used VERY effectively to produce amazing images.

Now onto the types of light.

I'll start with the worst light. Hard light. This light is not, or is barely, diffused. It does not render very attractive images, in the most part. There will be a large dynamic range (or high contrast), and therefore there will be shadows and extreme highlights. Avoid using it as much as possible.

A much prefered 'texture' of light is diffused light. 'Diffused' means that the light is being softened and evenly redistributed by a semi-transparent material, whether it is clouds, an umbrella (not the rain-resistant kind- the photographic kind), or something similar. This creates a more gradual transition from highlights to shadows. This tends to be much more pleasing on most subjects. You just have to work around the grey sky. :)

Another light that makes use of an overcast sky is dappled light. This is a very interesting light and adds a cool effect to landscapes. Sometimes you can line up dappled light perfectly to highlight a key element of a composition. This is more specificly called 'spotlighting'. Unfortunately, I do not have a good example of this.

In general, the best time of day to photograph something is in the morning or evening. That is because the light is often softer and has an attractive color to it. A good example of this is Alpenglow, as illustrated on the right.

You can also photograph light itself, but that's a different article. :)

Comments (13)

Posted by Elimitchell on February 08, 2010
I'm glad you found it interesting.
Posted by Cooper5022 on February 08, 2010
Thank you for the informative article.
Posted by Elimitchell on February 05, 2010
Thanks for all your comments.
Posted by Maigi on February 05, 2010
I want more light... :) Thanks for the great article!
Posted by Littledesire on February 05, 2010
Great images! Thanks for the useful tips!
Posted by Joe1971 on February 05, 2010
beautiful photo.
Posted by Justmeyo on February 05, 2010
Great article:)
Posted by Elimitchell on February 05, 2010
Thanks, Fultonsphoto. It's almost quarter of my portfolio. :)
Posted by Fultonsphoto on February 05, 2010
Nice blog and some good examples with nice pics.
Posted by Elimitchell on February 05, 2010
Thank you for your comment.
Posted by Picstudio on February 05, 2010
Great blog.
Posted by Elimitchell on February 04, 2010
Thanks for the comment. That is very true.
Posted by Digitalreflections on February 04, 2010
Good tutorial. Light can be your friend or your enemy.

Comments (13)

This article has been read 1602 times. 5 readers have found this article useful.
Photo credits: , Elimitchell.

About me

Whether the subject is a soaring eagle, snowy Mount McKinley or a blooming Dahlia, ever since I began photography a few years ago I have discovered details through the viewfinder that I would not have seen otherwise. Through my photography, I hope share these incredible facets of Creation with others.

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