Having an abundance of light is not necessarily what a photographer needs. More important is the quality of that light. The quantity of light can be controlled by the shutter – leave the shutter open at night and the image produced can be as bright as day. We have less control over the quality of the light, but can use the time of day to affect it. This exercise shows us the possibilities when shooting with a low sun. When the sun is high in the sky, lighting provided by the sun is very different to when it is close to the horizon and more ‘directional’. It can change the mood and feel of a photograph and be used to our advantage if it suits one’s intent.
Sunlight within a couple of ours of sunrise or sunset is softer, warmer and weaker than sunlight later in the day. Shadows will not be so deep.
I carried out the exercise at either end of the day, taking pictures of my bike on the way to work, and of our ‘heavy-breasted angel of love’ as the sun began to set. The first group were shot at 7.20am, or 2 hours and 40 minutes after sunrise – the effects would have been further enhanced by shooting earlier, but we’re only a week past the longest day of the year! The second set were shot at 8pm, 90 minutes before sunset.
Click on any of the pictures to see them bigger.
Frontal, or axis lighting comes from directly behind the photographer. It suits situations where the intent is to show colour but will not reveal form and so is not good for landscape photography for example as it will flatten a scene. It can work for portraits by providing even illumination to the face.
In this example, all parts of the bike frame are evenly lit and coloured a similar blue. There is reflected light from the polished surfaces of the rims and I had to be careful not to include my own shadow.
As one moves around the subject being lit with a directional light such as early morning sunshine, the effect of the light will change. In this example, the lighting on the circular section tubes of the bike give a gradient across them from light, and bright blue when facing the light, through to dark blue in the shadows. This effect allows the viewer to understand the shape of an object. In the previous picture, the way that the tubes were lit didn’t give us this information – they could have been square.
Attention needs to be paid to how deep these shadows get – if our intent is to show detail in those shadows, we’ll need to expose differently.
Note the shadow in the bracken caused by the bench. Because of the relative weakness of the sunlight, detail remains in the these shadows.
Shooting directly into the sun can be difficult, and dangerous to the eyesight. Different effects can be produced including the sun or by blocking it out with the subject. It can show shape but little other detail if shot as a silhouette. Careful exposure control can keep detail in the object if required. There is also risk of lens flare which can enhance or spoil a picture.
Edge lighting moves the sun outside of the viewfinder but captures the lit edges of the subject. It can be difficult to get right. Different edges and profiles will give different results. A lens hood may help reduce flare in this situation.
Here, the top edge of the bench, the top tube of the bike and the black brake lever hoods all have a bright edge (it is trickier to see against the bright background).
Frontal lighting 2
Side lighting 2
Edge lighting 2
This was a really useful exercise and I look forward to using these techniques again with artificial light later in this section…
Barnbaum, B (2010) The art of photography – An approach to personal expression. California; Rocky Nook