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“The best way out is always through.”

Monday, January 19, 2009

Spotlight Subjects with Front Lighting

There's a funny shift in the value (or lack thereof) of front lighting in still photos that's taken place during the years that I've been writing photo books. When I first started writing about photography the general rule was "keep the sun over your shoulder," which meant in essence, always use front lighting. Then as consumers became more hip to the value of different lighting directions in "creative" photography, front lighting somehow got shoved to the back of the lighting bus.

Early on, I was as guilty as anyone in describing light that fell on the front of a scene as mostly a utilitarian lighting direction for getting a good exposure and keeping pesky shadows at bay (hidden behind subjects). Today though, partly because our audience has grown more sophisticated, most photo teachers and writers acknowledge that any light is good light if it works with the subject you're shooting. 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.

And let's face it, sometimes you're stuck with the light that you're stuck with and unless you want to linger your vacation away waiting for the earth to spin a bit more, you play the cards your dealt. In the case of this antique-sign display in Greenville, Maine, front lighting (also slightly from above) was not only the only option (unless I wanted to wait a few hours for the signs to fall into shade) but the spotlighting effect really ignited the colors and added a nice 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 good advice. Unless, of course, backlighting or sidelighting works better for a particular shot!

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