Category Archives: 18b-Variety with a low sun

Variety with a low sun


As was demonstrated in the last exercise, Light throughout the day, the light a few hours after sunrise and before sunset provided interesting results. This exercise also aims to further highlight the advantages of shooting when the sun is low.

The exercise asks for examples of four very different types of lighting using a low sun; frontal lighting, side lighting, back lighting and edge lighting.

Frontal lighting

Hunter et al (2012, p94) describe front lighting as light coming from the direction of the camera, which lights the front of the subject. They continue by noting that front lighting shows the least possible depth as the visible part if the subject is highlighted while the shadow falls behind the subject where the camera cannot see it. However, the perceived lack of depth can be useful as this minimizes skin textures in front-lit portraits for more flattering results.

I took these photographs outdoors, about 1 hour before sunset. I used daylight WB throughout.

The immediate problem I encountered when attempting to photograph with the sun immediately behind me was the shadow my body was casting over the scene. I repositioned the subjects and myself a few times before I achieved an angle, which overcame this.

1. Frontal lighting 55mm, f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 100

1. Frontal lighting
55mm, f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 100

For this image the subject is a decorative pear, I had in an arrangement at home. The shadow from the pear is directly behind it and the resulting perspective appears flat and two-dimensional. Freeman (2009, p80) notes that rather that relying on texture or perspective, successful frontal lit objects should have a strong colour and tone, and/or an interesting outline form. While the pear in this image does have an interesting outline shape it’s colour is similar to the backdrop making it difficult to separate subject and background.

2. Frontal lighting 55mm, f/5.6, 1/1500, ISO 100

2. Frontal lighting
55mm, f/5.6, 1/1500, ISO 100

The next image is also front lit. Again, the shadow is directly behind the subject, an angel ornament. While there is still very little depth to note I think this image is more successful than the first, probably due to the fact the differing colours make the objects shape stand out from the background.

Side lighting

Side lighting is, somewhat unsurprisingly, when the light is on one side of the subject. Hunter et al (2012, p95) note that side lighting can be useful in enhancing the perception of depth as it provided both highlight and shadow.

Image 1 shows the sun hitting the pear from the left hand side. This has well lit the left hand side while the right side is in shade. The highlights and shadow have helped reveal some of the pear’s form and make it appear more three-dimensional. The shadow that has been cast by the pear also helps to create a sense of depth, however, it is a ‘hard’ shadow, which ‘arguably’ distracts from the subject. Hunter et al (2012, p21) suggest that obtrusive shadows can be softened. In this case, perhaps by shooting on a day with some cloud coverage?

1. Side lighting 55mm, f/5.6, 1/750s, ISO 100

1. Side lighting
55mm, f/5.6, 1/750s, ISO 100

Image 2 is also side lit from the left, placing the right side of the angel in shadow. This, again, has helped to reveal some of the form. A hard shadow has also been cast, though, in this image it seems less distracting than the first, possibly due to the photograph’s vertical composition.

2. Side lighting 55mm, f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 100

2. Side lighting
55mm, f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 100

Back lighting

Back lighting sees the photographer shooting towards the light. Freeman (2009, p84) notes that the best-known example of the a backlit shot is the silhouette with the subject placed directly in front of the sun, which is the set up I used here.

It took several attempts and a lot of camera adjustments to capture these shots. The first issue was that the brightness of the scene left me unable to read information from inside the viewfinder, such as the exposure indicator while the second was achieving an exposure which didn’t result in clipping. I experimented with exposure bracketing and managed to take the shots. The silhouettes clearly show the outline shape of both subjects.

2. Back lighting 55mm, f/5.6, 1/1500s, ISO 100

1. Back lighting
55mm, f/5.6, 1/1500s, ISO 100

2. Back lighting 55mm, f/5.6, 1/4000s, ISO 100

2. Back lighting
55mm, f/5.6, 1/4000s, ISO 100

Edge Lighting

Edge lighting and rim lighting are both examples of backlighting that involve capturing the brightly lit edges of a subject (Freeman, 2009, p85). You are shooting towards the sun, but with the sun outside the edges of the frame. The light then hits the edges of the subject producing a bright, highlight outline.

I attempted this with the pear but the results were more akin to side lighting than edge lighting as can be seen below.

1. Edge lighting 55mm, f/5.6, 1/180s, ISO 100

1. Edge lighting
55mm, f/5.6, 1/180s, ISO 100

Freeman (2009, p86) suggests that edge lighting is usually most effective when shown against a fairly dark background; therefore I composed a photograph of the angel ornament with part of the background consisting of dark foliage. Against the dark background the edge lighting can be seen clearly whereas it is unnoticeable against the bright sky.

2. Edge lighting 55mm, f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 100

2. Edge lighting
55mm, f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 100


This has been an interesting exercise that has demonstrated how slight changes in where the light strikes the subject can produce very different results. It has also helped to illustrate the ways in which lighting can influence the perception of depth in a photograph as well as emphasising a subject’s shape and form.

Freeman, M. (2009) The Photographer’s Field Guide. Lewes: ILEX

Hunter, F., Biver, S.,Fuqua, P. (2012) Light, Science and Magic, An Introduction to Photographic Lighting (4th edition) Waltham: Focal Press