Working with Directional Light
Directional lighting is great for composing photographs with lots of contrast. It's also useful for compositions in which shadows play a significant role. Any bright sunny day will yield all the light you need for directional lighting outdoors. The only problem might be that it may not be coming from the direction you'd like. In some cases, you can move the camera or walk around the subject to change front light to side light or back light. In others, you'll have to wait until the light itself moves before you can get the image you want.
Putting directional light behind you in the morning or afternoon will give you scenes with the least amount of shadows. Contrast will come primarily from the natural contrast in the scene, rather than from the contrast between highlights and shadows. Matte surfaces such as stucco may show more color saturation because direct, shadow-free lighting emphasizes color rather than texture. Shiny surfaces, however, may have less color saturation as the direct reflections of the sun or light source dilutes the color with white light. You will get spectacular highlights (direct reflections of the sun or light source), which tells the viewer that the object has a shiny surface.
Using directional light behind you is good for sports photography because there are no distracting shadows. Uniforms, not being shiny, will look wonderful, and the bright light allows a faster shutter speed. Sunlit scenery stands out against the sky, which appears a rich dark blue in relation to the brightness. Sunny cityscapes or landscapes look their most colorful in early morning.
When you face into the sun you are looking at a backlit scene, which can be great for gardens and foliage in general. Backlit scenes are very dramatic, as the lines (such as roof lines) are lit up, emphasizing the lines and outlining objects. Because a backlit scene is naturally contrasted, backlit photos are usually not about shadow or highlight detail but the quality of light.
Remember that this is a time of day when your metering can be inaccurate. If your camera does not have TTL metering, it may underexpose the scene, especially if the portion of the scene it is reading is significantly brighter than the subject. This is why some cameras have a backlight button, which increases exposure by one or two stops to make up for backlit subjects that would otherwise be underexposed.
In cases such as scenes with water, the sun low in the sky creates a large, mirror-like reflection of light from the surface — called a specular reflection — in the water and wet sand. If you expose for the subject, the strong backlighting will overpower the picture, causing flare. The solution here is to deliberately underexpose by taking a reading from the shiny part of the scene. You may want to overexpose one or two stops to keep the sun's reflection truly bright, but not so bright it causes lens flare. This silhouettes (underexposes) backlit subjects without losing the details on the bright surface of the water and gleaming beach sand.
If you're using an automatic camera to photograph a scene dominated by the sky, set your exposure for the scene, not the sky and clouds. Use exposure lock while aiming your camera at the scenery, then keep it locked as you move the horizon to the one-third line in your frame. (The compositional “rule of thirds” is discussed in Chapter 12.)
Both morning and afternoon light appear as side lighting when you have your side to the sun. As previously mentioned, this type of directional light emphasizes texture, shape, and form. As you turn the way you point the camera or walk around the subject, you can change the direction from which the light is coming to create the picture you want.
Directional light can be harsh, however, because it emphasizes texture and shine. Human skin tones, for example, are rarely flattered by direct light from the sun. Using a fill light (either a flash or reflector) will greatly improve your photographs of human subjects.
Another way to enhance light outdoors is to bounce the sun off a piece of white board. You will get a more powerful bounce if you use a silver reflector, such as a board covered with foil or even a sheet of galvanized steel. You could also staple a white bed sheet or shower curtain to a fence or the side of a building, or hang it from a rope or clothesline. All of these are dependent on direct sun hitting the reflector. If you can change the angle of the white or foil surface, you have more flexibility in where you place your bounce card and your subject. Human subjects will appreciate a white board instead of foil or metal, which can be almost as blinding as direct sun.
FIGURE 10-3 Light from the side can be very effective in defining facial features and giving a full, three-dimensional effect to the subject. It works equally well on inanimate subjects such as statuary.
Back lighting is a very attractive and natural example of having two lighting patterns. Any subject that is lit from behind but still has light from the front is a candidate for a backlit shot. The viewer understands that one light source creates highlights from the back, while the front of the subject is lit by a second light.
If you're working in sunlight with subjects that are close (five to fifteen feet) to the camera, use fill flash to put some light into the shadows. This technique will let you properly expose for highlights, with the flash bringing light into the shadows.