The way a photographer works with light can change everything about a photograph. Knowing how to use natural light in your favor is an art in itself, and in the beginning it is more accessible for novice photographers to experiment with. There is a lot to be understood about how natural light can be used, manipulated and even added to in the favor of truly stunning images. There are entire books and college courses on lighting, but a review of the basics are a great place to start.
Front lighting is light that’s shining directly at your subject, therefore directly on your back or over your shoulder. Often times this is the first advice you’re given as a budding photographer, front lighting is your friend. But this direct lighting can really work against an image as well, taking away from the dimension of your subject, “flattening” the image. The mind is able to compensate and still see dimension in a relatively flat image, but you can also learn to pull that dimension out by simple lighting changes.
When you begin to turn your subject away from that direct front light (or wait for the sun to move) you will see different shadows cast on your subject, pulling out angles and textures that would be lost in front lighting. This type of lighting, typically referred to as side lighting, is especially effective in black and white photography where shades tend to blend together and get lost. Side lighting enhances shadows in such a way that adds a lot of depth to an image.
When light is facing directly at the photographer, coming from behind the subject, this is backlighting. Backlighting is how photographers achieve that silhouette affect and also avoid the squinty eyes that front and even side lighting can sometimes cause in portraits.
There are so many ways to play with natural light to capture a beautiful image, but to broaden your horizons it can be truly invaluable to begin to understand the tools you have to add or manipulate light.
In natural light photography, the use of a simple reflector can make a world of difference. A reflector does just what the name implies: it reflects light. Reflectors can be used to brighten shadows in a backlit image or draw light from other angles. They come in all sizes and various shades that reflect more or less light and can also alter the tones of an image. Reflectors are a great place to start when experimenting with lighting.
From reflectors, we then find artificial light. Some photographers prefer to shoot without the use of any added lighting and only go so far as reflectors for light manipulation. But for the novice, it’s worth it to look further into the world of artificial lighting before choosing to do without it.
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