Thursday, July 2, 2009

Using Light To Your Advantage

The fact is that the light will not always be how you want it to be. And a photographer must know how to use the available lighting to create a pleasing image. There are three things I have found that will most affect your picture.


The biggest issue with bright lighting is always the creation of shadows. One approach to the presence of strong shadows is to use them to enhance the photo. This photo was originally taken in color and later converted to black & white. However, even with the original color photograph, I used the shadows to my advantage. Because the sunlight was coming from the left-hand side of the lizard, it created shadows thus giving the image texture. My choice of black & white further increased the shadows and the texture of the image.

Brown Anole

Brown Anole

Here is another example of sidelighting. I rotated myself around this frog, looking for the angle in which the light would fall on the frog's eyes. The shadows created underneath the eye, the neck, and the toes, give more dimension to the skin of the frog and also prevent it from appearing "flat". Always remember that the light will change as your body position changes. I have captured a lot of photos I would have otherwise lost by just shifting where I was standing.

Pot-bellied, Cuban Tree Frog

Pot-bellied, Cuban Tree Frog


Backlighting is just what it sounds like - when the light comes from the back of the subject. This often gives objects a "halo" effect. In this first image, I realized the shadows could be used to hide the detail of the busy foliage and would in return highlight the falling water of the fountain. In this instance, I chose to spot meter on the water and selected a longer shutter speed. I do want to point out that because of my camera angle, I did have to fight against a strong lens flare. To prevent it from affecting the image, I shaded my lens with my hand, careful to keep my hand out of the frame.

Strings of Sunlight, Port Orleans Hotel, Orlando, Florida

Strings of Sunlight, Port Orleans, French Quarter, Orlando, Florida

Flowers are one of my favorite subjects for backlighting. You have be careful, however, to not over-darken areas of the flower you do not want to lose. I often switch to spot meter and meter on a mid-range lit area of the subject instead of the brightest area.

Azalea Glow

Azalea Glow


The 3rd and most obvious type of lighting is frontlighting. Frontlighting can be ideal and is often what a photographer is searching for. However, it does have one disadvantage. It can cast your background into deep shadow. A good example of this is the effect given with the use of a front-held flash. You will notice the subject is lit, but the background is lost. However, again, the frontlighting can be used to create a pleasing effect. With this picture of a caterpillar, I was standing in fairly deep shade. To take this image, I adjusted the caterpillar into a found circle of light. The loss of the leafy background only serves to turn the viewer's eyes to the caterpillar.

Crinkled Flannel Moth

Crinkled Flannel Moth Caterpillar

In Final

Most images will have one form of these 3 types of lighting. The first step is to learn to recognize what type of lighting is available. Now, I do not usually say to myself, "Oh, that is backlighting," but I do recognize what effect the direction of the light is having on the subject. I also pay close attention to what shadows are being created, and in the end, know how to adjust my camera to capture what will be a pleasing photograph.

Coral Vine

Coral Vine

White Peacock Butterfly

White Peacock Butterfly


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Suzanne Williams Photography
For More of My Words
Florida, USA

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.


Cindy said...

Wow, those pictures are beautiful. What talent!

scw1217 said...

Thanks so much, Cindy!

~Christina~ said...

Beautiful series of photos. I like them all. Very nice.