Posted by: David Vernon | October 14, 2008

Let’s Talk About Light For a Brief Shining Moment

Banner Marsh Sunset 1I’m back from an absolutely wonderful weekend in gorgeous Michigan. Being outside the 100-mile Central Illinois limit, you will have to find those photos elsewhere then on this site but needless to say it was a goldmine of a photographic opportunity.

With classes starting at the Art Guild tonight, I wanted to take today as an educational opportunity. A few weeks ago I did a quick read of Bryan Peterson’s book “Understanding Exposure“. It was actually a book I could recommend to someone starting out in photography. He covers basic lessons on shutter speed, aperture, and light with lots of examples. I want to talk specifically today about the three kinds of light “directions”: front light, side light, and back light – and more specifically where do I point my camera’s light meter. We’ll get more into the specifics of metering down the road – but let’s start here:

Frontlight – Frontlighting means the light source is BEHIND the PHOTOGRAPHER. It lights the subject in front of you. Due to frontlightings ability to, for the most part, evenly illuminate the subject, many photographers consider it to be the easiest kind of lighting to work with in terms of metering. The quality of frontlighting is best in the first hour after sunrise, and during the last few hours of daylight. Where do I meter? Wherever you want to tell your story. This light goes from very even to slightly contrasty but in the end meter where the story is.

Overcast Frontlight – a special case of frontlighting. In fact the safest lighting condition. Just point and shoot! You can meter anywhere because the light is often so even and there are so few shadows.

Sidelight – This is often a case of the old photographic maxim: expose for the highlights and let the shadows fall where they may. Because the light mostly comes from one side, this is a medium to high contrast set-up. So meter in the highlights of the subject. It’s not a bad idea to also meter in that situation and then stop down one stop. You may get more pleasing highlights and even more interesting shadows.

Backlight – Now the light is BEHIND the SUBJECT. To silhouette a subject, meter to left or right of (or above or below) the brightest part of the scene. If you don’t want to silhouette, either spot meter (we’ll cover that) on your subject or walk right up to the subject and meter close – to just capture the light reflecting off the subject.

That really covers the three directions. Part II of this post will examine the different types of metering your camera’s light meter can do – and how each one works for you.

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