Jeff Jacobson Photography

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Handling Light In Photography

Not banal, on the other hand: the sensitive handling of the available light, the detection of unusual light situations, the optimal exposure, and coping with contrasts.

For photographers, dealing with available light has two sides: the creative design and the technical implementation.

On the one hand, the lighting of a subject can no longer be changed afterward, on the other hand, the most beautiful light is of no use if the tonal values ​​in the image are not correct, if shadows have closed or lights have been eroded.

The following applies:

The more complex or spectacular the photo light, the more it depends on the photographer’s technical ability, from the photo to the image processing.

Designing with light begins with developing sensitivity for unusual lighting situations. There are those magical moments when the light enchants the environment and you as a photographer hold your breath. Such lighting moods often only last a few seconds or minutes, for example when a storm is approaching the door. When the day turns into the blue hour and the bluish cold ambient light is in beautiful complementary color contrast to artificial light sources.

Or in backlit situations just before sunset.

Such moments cannot be forced, they are given for free. However, this does not mean that the photographer is simply at the mercy of the available light: By choosing the location, for example, you can influence how the sun hits the subject in order to work out its shape or surface. Or you can brighten up if there is too much shadow over against the light.

Position & direction of light

If directed light hits an object, the decisive factor is the direction from which the light comes in relation to the direction of exposure. Basically, the following four variants can be distinguished:

1. Front light
The light shines in the direction of recording (also called frontal light), the photographer has the light source at his back. Shadows can hardly be seen because they are behind the subject. Black and white pictures often appear dull with this light, while flat motifs with strong colors develop their effect optimally. Example: graffiti on a wall, colorful shutters, flowers, and plants. If the sun is very high, the front light turns into incident light.

2. Sidelight
If the light comes from the side, for example at an angle of 30 to 60 degrees to the direction of exposure, a shadow is created on the side facing away from the light. Sidelight has a modeling effect, it works out the forms and structures of a motif – an important stylistic device in architecture and landscape. For portraits, it is advisable to brighten the side of the face facing away from the sun with a flash or – which often looks more natural – with a folding reflector.

3. Sidelight
So-called because it hits the motif at a very acute angle and in doing so works out surface structures in a three-dimensional manner. Examples: wooden surfaces or walls. Grazing light can come from the side as well as from above, so it is an extreme form of side or incident light.

4. Backlight
It represents a great challenge for the photographer and at the same time offers many design options. Light fringes on hair and contours are typical design elements – but also foreground motifs that become silhouettes without detailed drawings. Transparent motifs such as foliage come into their own in the backlight because they develop a self-luminous effect.

Tip: When taking backlit photos, choose the position so that the light source is covered (e.g. by a branch), so the sun does not shine directly into the lens – otherwise the contrasts are difficult to control, stray light effects, and cloud the image.