Quality and direction

The quality of the light falling on your subjects is often defined with terms such as 'hard' or 'soft'. Hardest natural light comes direct from the sun in a clear sky; objects then cast well-defined, hard-edged shadow shapes and these may contribute strong lines and patterns to a picture, as well as stark, dramatic contrast. Figure 4.1 is an example where well-defined shadow shapes on a sunny day become a key part of the picture.

In Figure 4.2, sunlight from one side, 90° to the subject, gives a strongly three-dimensional effect. Lit parts are well defined, forming a strong pattern especially where picked

Figure 4.2 Side lighting creates pictures with strong, well-defined shapes and striking texture. Here the shadow area of one column is contrasted against the highlight area of the next, producing a pattern of alternating shades.

Figure 4.3 The hazy lighting produced by the low cloud has provided a soft and even, but still directional, light to the whole of this scene. Highlights and shadows are clearly present on the rocks in the foreground, but they are not as strong and distinct as they would be if the same location was photographed in midday sun.

Figure 4.3 The hazy lighting produced by the low cloud has provided a soft and even, but still directional, light to the whole of this scene. Highlights and shadows are clearly present on the rocks in the foreground, but they are not as strong and distinct as they would be if the same location was photographed in midday sun.

out against an area of solid dark shadow areas. In addition to defining shape well, side lighting also creates strong texture. However, you must be careful when photographing very contrasty pictures like this. It is important to expose accurately because even a slight error either 'burns out' the lightest detail or turns wanted shadow detail impenetrably dark. Beware too of shadows being cast by one subject onto another, as this may give confusing results.

Softest quality light comes from a totally overcast sky. Shadows are ill-defined or more often non-existent, so that lines and shapes in your picture are created by the forms of the subject itself. Pictures that are full of varied shapes and colors are best shot in soft, even lighting to reveal maximum overall information without complications of shadow. Even on a clear, sunlit day you can still find soft lighting by positioning your subject totally in shadow - for instance, in the shade of a large building, where it only receives light scattered from sky alone. Results in color may show a blue cast, however, unless carefully corrected via the editing software or when printing.

In Figure 4.3 you will notice how hazy sunlight gives an intermediate, semi-diffused lighting effect to the scene. Shadows are discernible but have ill-defined, well-graduated edges and there is less contrast than given by sunlight direct. Intermediate lighting conditions like this are excellent for many photographic subjects, and are especially 'kind' to portraits.

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