The direction of Light

The direction of Light

This week I’ll show you how the direction of light can affect your photographs

Photography is all about light and the direction of light. If the light is coming from a complimentary direction, you image will look detailed and three dimensional. If it is straight on, for example in the same way as you’re taking the image, it tends to look flat and 2 dimensional. Neither is right or wrong, however, different situations will work better in different lighting directions.

If we look in the same direction as the light is shining, basically where the light is on my back, all there details blend in to each other and textures are lost, the image looks flat.

If we look into the direction of light, the image can work, but you just have to watch out for lens flare and a bleaching out of your photograph.

When I look in a direction where the light is from the side or at an angle to the direction of the camera, it looks much better. Details and textures start to be visible and the image becomes more three dimensional.

We are in the UAE at the moment, so there is plenty of strong sunlight about. Although this is great for a suntan, overhead light isn’t so good for landscape photography. When the light is overhead, it isn’t too flattering and landscapes tend to be contrasty and flat, whereas during the golden hour, the light source (the sun) is low and gives long, detailed shadows. The colour of the light is also more complimentary with this warm orangey yellowy red colour.

Here the golden hour is short as we are closer to the equator, and this means we have a limited amount of time with the blue hour and golden hour. Saying that, during the golden hour here… really can be golden!! It should really be called the golden time as it varies from about 35 minutes through to most of the day depending how far from the equator you are.

So you can see that the direction of light plays a really important role in producing a good image. I’d say as a general guideline, if you’re shooting landscapes, have the sunlight side lighting the scene when it is low in the sky.

This is not a fixed rule, but its a good starting point. You might find compositions and landscapes that work in the middle of the day and you might find backlit compositions that look stunning.

This tutorial will just bring your attention to the direction of light. Think, where is the light coming from and what direction of the light might make the scene better?

When I’m shooting a landscape, I’ll do a rekkie. Whilst on site, I’ll open up photopills and see where the light will be during different times of the day. I can then work out where I need to be and at what time to get the optimal light for a potential image. Remember though, you may have to back to the location time and time again to get what you want, so be persistent and keep working on getting that perfect image. I’m not sponsored by photopills, but it is a great app and I use it all the time!


And that’s about it. And remember, If you plan your shots properly, working out the optimal direction of light for the location, you can turn pretty average landscapes into amazing vistas!




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