The Characteristics of Light

Amazingly, almost every aspect of a subject’s shape, form, color and texture is affected by the direction of the light striking it. If you move the subject (or light for that matter) you will create a completely different appearance of your subject.

  • Front lighting, generally, does not provide any shadows and can make an image appear quite flat.
  • Backlighting can be very dramatic, it allows the artist to create silhouettes from opaque subjects and translucent subjects, tree leaves and people’s hair, will take on a glow.
  • Lighting from the side will highlight texture, providing shadow and depth to the image.
  • Light from above tends to be rather harsh and unforgiving – it’s why photographers tend to shy away from shooting when the sun is high in the sky.

There are two types of light. Ambient light is the available or natural light which surrounds the subject. Natural light is usually very flattering. The other type of light is artificial lighting, which covers a wide variety of sources, ranging from the continuous photoflood to studio strobes. Artificial light gives the artist a lot of control with which to experiment and find the most favorable look for their subject.

Things to ask yourself when critiquing an image:

  • Does the lighting enhance the subject? Is it too soft or too harsh?
  • Would the artist improve their image by lighting the subject from another angle?
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