Different Qualities of Available Light

While there are many ways of describing the quality of light, the following are the most important to photographers:

■ Soft, diffused, or low contrast light—Fog is probably the most dramatic and best-known type of diffused light, but it's actually any light where there is no strong differentiation or contrast between light and dark, where everything seems gray, ethereal, indistinct. Soft lighting can be good for portraits and special effects, but for many other subjects, it tends to produce flat, uninteresting photos.

■ Hard or high contrast light—This is when light comes through clearly, without being diffused or diluted by anything in the atmosphere or environment. It's usually from one or several oblique sources, creating long, strong highlights and shadows. High-contrast light

can be very dramatic, but if you're not careful, it can drop out details in the midtones and produce photos that are too contrasty.

■ Direct light—When a clear light source shines directly onto the subject, without anything between it and the subject. It may come from the sun, a spotlight, or any other specific source. Like hard light, direct light tends to create noticeable highlights and shadows. Direct light can be harsh and contrasty, but also attractive and dramatic. Direct light is excellent for most types of subjects.

■ Indirect or reflected light—Light that bounces or is redirected between its source and the subject. Many photographers use indirect light to soften or filter light falling on a subject, to lessen the shadows or increase the highlights.

■ Ambient or incidental light—Light that exists within a scene that the photographer encounters rather than creates. For example, it is the daylight streaming in the windows and the normal overhead lights in a room. It can change the effect of the light you add to the scene, so you'll want to be aware of ambient light.

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