Last month was all about Composition.  During February, we will talk about light and more particularly, Light Direction.

This month we will be exploring:  front light, side light and backlight.



Flat front light is the least dramatic light available.  It is created by placing the light source directly in front of the subject.  It tends to illuminate the entire front of the subject, whether it be a face or an object, creating few to no shadows.  It can create a softness of mood.  It also diminishes textures, so it's a great type of light for what is called "glamour" portraits as it will hide imperfections.  Front light can also be more harsh depending on how you manipulate the light.  

In the following image, I used a combination of window light and light from an Ice Light to create front light to evenly light the flower and the leaf.  It works to create a simple image of a flower.  You can accomplish this same look with natural light.



Side light, sometimes called split light, occurs when the light source is placed to the side of the subject.  It creates shadows to give a three-dimensional quality to the subject by emphasizing the shape of the subject and by separating the subject from the background.  It is commonly used in portraiture because it communicates mood and emotion.  But be careful:  side light emphasizes textures, so if you want to hide blemishes, this is not the type of light to do it.  However, think of an elderly person with whom you want to emphasize their age.  Side light would emphasize the textures of the skin and give you a more dramatic portrait of the elderly person than front light.  Also keep in mind that the more dramatic the light, the more split from light to shadow, and that also has an effect on mood.

In the following image, I used the same flower to show an example of how light changes the the look and feel of the subject.

The light source (a window and the Ice Light) was the the left, allowing the background to fall into darkness.  The curve of the flower is more pronounced, as are the textures.  If you wanted even more shadowing, place a black board or other flag on the opposite side of the subject (opposite the light source).  That flag will absorb the light and keep it from bouncing back to the subject, therefore creating more shadows on the side of the subject opposite the light.



Backlight is created by placing the light source behind the subject.  Like side light, backlight gives depth to an image.  However, remember that with the light source behind your subject, the subject itself might be dark.   To correct that, either use a reflector (as simple as wearing a white t-shirt and standing in front of them!) or correct it in post processing.  If taken outside, look for an area of cement and have the subject stand facing it, as the cement would act as a reflector.  Also be careful of color casts!  Green grass can reflect up into your subject's face.    

Backlight is a very popular lighting option when wanting to obtain a soft or warm feeling image.  Portraits created with backlight tend to be light and airy, communicating positivity and optimism.  Backlit images taken at the golden hour, when the sun is low in the sky, tend to be warm because of the yellow tones of the setting sun.

In the following image, I once again used the same flower so that you could see how the light affects the overall feel.

The light source (a window) was placed behind the flower to illuminate its petals.  I was wearing a white shirt which helped to reflect the light to the front of the flower.  The overall tones of the image are warmer, and I was able to push the color further in post processing to create a happy, cheerful, warm image.  

Now that you've seen lighting on the same subject, I will share images with different lighting set ups.  Please think about the following:

1) direction - where was the light coming from?  

2) quality - was the light hard or soft?

3) details - does the light emphasize the details or hide them?  does it make the subject appear more dimensional or less?

4) mood - does the light help to convey a mood?  how would that change if the lighting were different?

5)  type - would a different direction of light changed the image and how?  could a different direction of light have strengthened the image?  (Yes, I do believe in some instances, it could have!)

These images are purposely posted in no order, so that you can really focus on the light and determine how it was manipulated.


The biggest piece of advice I can give you when deciding on lighting is to think about the mood you want to convey and whether you want to highlight or diminish textures.  Please consider those two items when shooting light direction this month.  Also remember to keep in mind the composition techniques you learned in January.  



And because this month's light theme requires a lot of thinking and practice, I wanted to add in a fun theme.  Show us your season!  We all live in different parts of the word.  Let's see what it looks like this February. 


I hope you found this information helpful.  Please remember to post your images to the appropriate albums on Facebook no later than February 28, 2017.  The albums are located here:  5/52 Front Light, 6/52 Side Light, 7/52 Backlight and 8/52 Seasons Part 1.  

I look forward to seeing your work.  

Finally, if you have not yet joined, please consider visiting the Grace Project and join today.