The Direction of the Light

The direction from which the light is coming is a big consideration for any photograph, but especially with close-up photography. Not only does it impact how the subject appears in the photograph, but it directs me as to where I need to position myself and the camera. It's not enough to look at a potential subject, make a photograph, and walk away on the hunt for the next image. Instead, I have to think about where the light is coming from and, thus, where I need to place the camera to make the most effective photograph possible.

When I saw this beachgoer rinsing the saltwater off his body, the sun was behind me and it produced an okay photograph. I thought there might be something much more interesting if I moved to the other side of him, which I did quickly. By backlighting him, I was able to reveal the beauty of the spray of water and the shape of his leg and foot in a way that wouldn't have been possible from my original position. The first shot was a simple document of someone showering, but this image makes it much more than that. It becomes an image about the way the light passes through the droplets of water and reveals the shape of his body. The gesture of the slightly raised foot helps complete the image in a nice way for me. This is just an image of someone rinsing off in a public shower, but because I chose to utilize the light that was there, I made a photograph that expresses more than just that obvious fact.

REMEMBER: Just because you discover a subject from a certain position doesn't mean that this is the position that you're obligated to make your photograph from. That's a mistake I often made early in my photographic career and one that I often see my students make. However, when you begin to have sensitivity to the light, you can make choices that improve the quality of your photographs.

By changing my position relative to the sun, I was able to make a much more effective image of this beachgoer rinsing off his body.

Waiting for the light to improve allowed me to make a much more interesting image of a door, a favorite photographic subject.

A change of direction revealed the light's impact on this wall in a surprising way and revealed a very photo-worthy subject.

Like many photographers, I photograph a lot of doors. There's something about the shape and color of these entryways that's always appealed to shutterbugs, myself included. So, when I saw this door, I was drawn to its strong repeating square shapes. But when I originally saw it, the door was in shade and the resulting image was flat and boring. It was only later in the day when I walked past the door again that I saw it revealed in a way that was particularly interesting.

Now there was direct light illuminating the door as well as a strong shadow casting an angular shape across it. Suddenly, that door become something far more interesting and engaging for me. It may not be the best door picture ever made, but for me the creation of the photograph became that much more interesting and fun because I had some light to play with.

When I first walked past this wall, I was walking east, the sun behind me. It was only when I was walking back west that the pattern on the wall was revealed to me. The raised diamond shape had appeared completely flat to me when I had walked past it earlier, but on my way back, the shadows cast by the sunlight were revealed to me and so was the extraordinary pattern. This experience taught me to try moving 180 degrees when possible, to fully explore the potential of the relationship between light and my subject.

Using backlight can help reveal the color and detail of a leaf or flower in a way not possible when it's lit from the front.

When it comes to photographing plants, backlighting provides a great opportunity for revealing the intricacies of the patterns that exist on the bodies of the leaves and flowers. The very same plant can appear different merely as a result of deciding to reposition myself relative to the light source.

This backlit leaf reveals a strong repeating diagonal pattern that adds a level of visual tension to the composition. As with many of the other images, it's the presence of the shadow that helps define that pattern and helps offset the color itself.

The backlight does more than increase the saturation of the green throughout the imageā€”it also enhances the edge of the plant itself, creating a separation between this leaf and the out-of-focus foliage behind it. It becomes a dividing line in the composition, which helps break up the frame and create a level of tension within it.

Each of these subjects are things you encounter during the course of your life that most people would never consider for a photograph, but by simply making the choice to be aware of the light, you can reveal the beauty of the ordinary.

Direct sunlight provides a great source of illumination when I want to achieve very saturated color and emphasize shape and texture.

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