Understanding how the direction of light strikes a subject is very important in photography, as it has a significant effect on color, form, texture and depth in your images.
Frontal lighting. In the past, photography books (and even some teachers) have advised budding photographers to “keep the sun coming over your shoulder.” Front lighting will provide a pretty even, flat illumination on your subject, and if it’s too bright, it can wash out the color of your images.
Sidelighting. This light comes from the left or the right of a subject. It emphasizes texture, shadows, and three-dimensional form, and is the ideal lighting for landscapes. You’ll find this lighting early in the morning or late in the day.
Top lighting. This light casts an even illumination across the top of your subject, and can emphasize surface colors. However, it will cast shadows under people’s eyes if you’re shooting outdoor portraits. This light occurs during the middle of the day.
Backlighting. This is when the light is coming directly toward the camera and strikes your subject from behind. This type of lighting can make semi-transparent objects like leaves or flower petals appear to glow from within, and can create rim lighting on people’s hair. Backlighting is one of the most dramatic directions of light.
- Lynne Eodice teaches two excellent online photography courses at BetterPhoto.com: Learning to Shoot Inspiring Images and Pro Tips for Great Exposure
- The subject of natural light is also covered in a new book by Jim Miotke and Kerry Drager: The BetterPhoto Guide to Photographing Light (to be published in April 2012).