One of the main digital photography secrets that elude most photographers is the direction of light. Where is the light coming from and how will it affect my subject? This is a question that most photographers never even consider.The direction of light:When you look at your subject through the viewfinder or in live view on the camera’s LCD, identify where the light is coming from. Is it coming from the side? Above? Below? Or even behind? To truly begin to master seeing light, you must first begin with a basic. Try this exercise:Look for a room in your home that has a window where direct light is not streaming through the window. This is called ambient light. It is diffused and soft, but it always has a direction. It is almost always the photographer’s friend.Get to know it.Place something on a chair or table by the window. Maybe a small vase or statue. Stand with the window on your left or right side and with the object (let’s say the vase) directly in front of you. The light will be coming from the side.
Notice how it wraps around the vase creating a modeling effect. This is normally beautiful light and places nice shadows on subjects. Especially when the light is diffused and not direct. Again, this is called ambient light or open shade might be an easier term to get our minds around.Now let’s walk around the vase until we are in between the window and the vase. The window is at your back and the vase is in front of you. This is front lighting (don’t let your shadow fall onto the vase or you will be a science project, how an eclipse is formed). There shouldn’t be many shadows on your vase and if this were a person there wouldn’t be any shadows either. This is a flattering lighting setup for people who don’t want their wrinkles to be accentuated.Again, using this type of lighting, open shade or ambient light, combined with front lighting is a very nice combination to photograph people.Let us move again so that the vase is in between the window and us.This is classic back lighting and produces silhouettes.Most beginning and some seasoned veterans are fooled by this type of lighting since when you look at it, your eyes compensate for the lack of light on your subject and don’t really see the bright background. Your camera unfortunately doesn’t realize that your subject doesn’t want to be in the witness protection program and exposes for the background (or the lightest area in the viewfinder) because that is how they are programmed.How do we fix this?In a DSLR we switch to manual and overexpose by a stop or two. Or set our camera to overexpose in the automatic mode. In a point-and-shoot camera, it’s a little tougher but it can be done.
You just have to be smarter that your camera!Point your camera at your subject and depress the shutter halfway, now hold it there. On the newer models, the camera will do the work for you realizing that your point of focus is the main subject and it will overexpose like its big brother the DSLR. Sometimes you may have to go into your menu and request an overexposure.Either way you subject will receive more light and be clearly exposed. One more trick is to turn on your built in flash and hit your subject with a little electronic fill light and voila, correctly exposed subjects!Continue to practice seeing the directionality of light and identifying it many different settings. Become a master of seeing the light and your photography will soar to the next level. Digital photography secrets can unlock your potential and help you become a better photographer.