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Should You Really Keep the Sun Over Your Shoulder?

Posted By Jeff Wignall On March 12, 2009 @ 9:12 am In Art of Photography | 1 Comment

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I’ve seen a funny shift in the perceived value of front lighting since I began writing photography books. When I started writing about photography three decades ago, the general rule was “keep the sun over your shoulder,” which meant, in essence, to always use front lighting. Then, as consumers became hip to the value of different lighting directions in “creative” photography, front lighting fell out of favor.

Now, it’s making a comeback.

<i>In this shot, the light is coming from the right side of the frame -- but is effectively spotlighting this lifesaving station with a broad front light.</i>

In this shot, the light is coming from the right side of the frame -- but is effectively spotlighting this lifesaving station with a broad front light.

I used to be as guilty as anyone in describing light that fell on the front of a scene as mostly a utilitarian lighting direction — useful for getting a good exposure and keeping pesky shadows at bay (hidden behind subjects).

Today though, most photo teachers and writers agree that any light is good light if it works with the subject you’re shooting.

Put Some Snap into Your Shots

In fact, since many digital cameras produce somewhat flat and unsaturated colors, the use of front lighting is actually a great way to put some snap into ordinary outdoor scenes.

<i>Late-afternoon light is a great source of front lighting. In this case the last rays of light are spotlighting Nubble Light near York, Maine.</i>

Late-afternoon light is a great source of front lighting. In this case the last rays of light are spotlighting Nubble Light near York, Maine.

And let’s face it, sometimes you’re stuck with the light that you’re stuck with. In the case of this antique-sign display in Greenville, Maine (below), front lighting was the only option, unless I wanted to wait a few hours for the signs to fall into shade.

greenville_maine-signs-wignall-1

But front lighting was fine with me in this case, because the spotlighting effect really ignited the colors and added a crisp sharpness to the scene. While I normally saturate most digital images at least a tiny bit (especially for the Web), this shot is exactly as it came out of my Nikon D70.

So if your dad always told you to keep the sun over your shoulder, he was actually giving you pretty timeless advice.

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1 Comment To "Should You Really Keep the Sun Over Your Shoulder?"

#1 Comment By heather buckley On November 1, 2010 @ 12:47 pm

I love it when I shoot into the sun!

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