Arc of Beauty: Side to Back Lighting

Arc of Beauty: Side to Back Lighting

Have You Considered the “Arc of Beauty” in your lighting?

(Image by Tracy Sutherland)

We are going to take a high-level view of lighting today and discuss what I call the “Arc of Beauty“. And while no lighting scheme is going to be directly discussed, what we are to think about is a general tone of the light and what it does.

The “Arc of Beauty

The Arc is backlight from side to full back. This lighting is one that I think of every time I get ready to do a still life, food, tabletop, or product shoot. It is a go-to lighting at the highest level.

What that means is I haven’t thought about whether it will be a softbox, or an umbrella, or a grid spot… I just want to get the benefits of back / side-back lighting established first.

And I do this usually with a boom or grid-held light instrument that allows me clean vision below it while keeping the light itself above and or behind the subject. While it can be done with a stand, the boom allows me to get the stand out of the picture from behind and not have to limit my angle in order to not see it.

Full on side light is also part of the arc of beauty. And remember, top down lighting is also side lighting since it is oblique to the camera.

Full Side Light is also within the Arc of Beauty and can provide some stunning textural and dimensional presentation.
The arc also extends vertically from lower than the subject to directly over top (also a ‘side light’ in angle from the camera.

From a full on back light oblique to the camera to top down light from above, the arc is also a vertical tool that can help with dimension, texture, color definition and more.

Why do I start here?

Because the tendency of front lighting is to make things flat. Dimension falls away, shadows fall away, and the overall texture is diminished as well.

Here are two shots to show you how it works from a small, intimate image to a large scene.

The pear and grape still life was shot on an 8 x 10 Deardorff and 14″ lens with Ektachrome 64 Transparency film. Light is from camera right and is a 24x36″ softbox shot through a 48x48″ scrim. The light is above the set.

Shot on Canon 6D / 24-105 MM at 30 MM. The back light gives texture to the sand, the wall and the sidewalk. It also creates a much more interesting set of shadows and shapes. Dimension and texture.

Bob Knill used a grid spot from the back.
Billy Walker chose side light to lift the details off of this head of lettuce.
Lisa Narduzzi chose a large soft light to bring out the texture and shape of her farm fresh beets.
Maciel Blaszczuk used a window light directly behind the bowl of onions for this iPhone shot.
James Kern uses light from the back right side to sculpt the texture and dimension of the assorted objects.
Soh Fong chose a diffused side light for her bananas in a corner of a small box.

Are there exceptions?

Absolutely. Shiny objects, liquid, situations where you WANT a flatter, less textural light. Of course there are exceptions and there are also some very talented photographers out there who choose front lighting as a stylistic difference for their work. They make killer images because they have worked with the technique long enough to know where and how to absolutely use it.

However that might be, we are talking about the bulk of our shooting approaches here.

To see it for your own self, set up something as a still life and move your softbox all around it as you make the photographs. You may have to add a little fill to the front (large white card perhaps) but shoot one with side light, back light, side/back light, low back light, high overhead backlight.

And shoot some with the light up front.

I believe you will see the difference and may help you think about your light in a bit of a different way.

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08: Controlling The “Presentation of Light”

08: Controlling The “Presentation of Light”

Subject Centric Lighting: The Five Areas of Light Presentation

Cover image by Project 52 student, Gabriel Alvarez.

When the lighting choices we have made are used, the light is ‘presented’ back to the camera in expected, and controlled ways. There are five parts of the light presentation, and we use them in every image we make.

True Subject Value:
What the subject looks like when not in specular or shadow, this is the area that shows us the color of the subject as well.

The exact or absolute reflection of the light source.

Specular Transition:
The point where the specular reflection transitions to the true subject value

Shadow Transition:
The transition between True Subject Value and Shadow

The places on the image that are not lit, the opposite side of the light source.

These areas of light are found in nearly every subject. By understanding what they do, and how they are controlled, we can understand much more about the light that is used to present these areas in the ways we want to show them.

In other words, knowing what causes a shadow transition, how to present true value, and how to control a specular highlight means we have control over our lighting and we can create the looks we want. Whenever we want.

Photographers and artists use these representations of light to show texture, shape, dimension, color, clarity and mood. Illustrators use highlight and shadow in their work to create their own light. And they use the same tools to light their drawings, although quite imaginary, as photographers do.

We can see all the presentations of light in this image of Inaudia.

Lit with two strip lights (one on each side), the one on camera left is behind Inaudia and aimed forward just bit. The one on the right is slightly in front of him, and angled at an oblique angle.

This renders two different kinds of specular presentations, the absolute one on his neck and left side, and the softer one on the right side.

All of the transitions are there, and these transitions are what we see when we are determining soft light from hard light. A fast transition is a hard light, where a softer transition – as in the picture below – is a softer light. We would call this image a hard light image because of the fast fall off in the transitions between highlight and true value, and true value and shadow.

This image shows a lot of true value skin tone. One of the reasons is that the model is not shiny (wet) or perspiring to cause a shinier surface. Powder is used to intensify the diffuse skin (true value) so the speculars (in red) are presented softly. The blue speculars, however, are presented with very sharp transitions. Note that the specular on the shiny lips is absolute, with no soft transition. The gold jewelry on the dress shows as highlight/black because the reflection of the light source from the shiny metal is absolute.

Lighting: Very large softbox directly in front of the model, and back 5 feet. White cards are positioned on either side of her, but pulled back to a point where they will not reflect in her eyes.

Photographer Anne Stephenson shows how to control the specular, true value, shadow and transitions in this seemingly simple table top product shot. As you can see, nothing done well is simple. Every kind of surface is in this shot.

Let’s start to put all of this together now.

07: Subject Properties: Part Three

07: Subject Properties: Part Three

Shiny or Glossy surfaces:

The third of our major surface efficiencies is glossy or very shiny surfaces.

The complete opposite of the textured surface, the glossy surface will record the reflection of the light source absolutely. That means we have to be very careful with our light sources… they will be shown in the object.

Umbrellas may be seen in their totality, the studio can be reflected into the camera, busy, confusing surroundings will find their way to our lens via the absolute reflectance of the subjects extremely efficient surface.

Of all the surfaces, shiny will be the most challenging. There is no room for even a bit of sloppiness in lighting angle or source choice. We will actually see the light in the reflection so it is part of our subject.

Where light was used to render subjects with texture and matte, it is itself part of the image when the surface is shiny, or very efficient.

(I am often asked how to light a car. The first thing I say is that you shouldn’t light the car, light what the car is going to reflect… because that IS the lighting on the car. The absolute efficiency of the paint is going to reflect whatever the photographer has put at the angle of incidence in order to present it to the lens.)

Example of a car shot:

In the shot above you can see the reflection of the trees and buildings behind the photographer. The absolute efficiency (gloss) of the paint reflects what it sees (angle of incidence = angle of reflection) and we can see clouds, threes and more in the paint. If we wanted the paint to be more controlled we would have to control what it ‘sees’. And then reflects.

Motorcycle in the sun.

The motorcycle above shows different efficiencies on the surfaces. The sun, a very small light source, provides a diffuse light on the textured leather seat and the brushed metal braking pad in the back. It also provides a somewhat diffused presentation from the black parts of the chrome pipes. But where it is striking the chrome, it is either an absolute specular or there is no reflected light at all. The chrome areas are reflecting what they see, and in most cases, they are seeing a dark void. You can see the street and surrounding area in the curved pipe in the middle of the photograph. Want ‘chrome’ pipes? Put white cards where they will be reflected back to the camera.

Glossy and shiny items are everywhere in our lives. From iPads and computers to glassware and furniture. We must learn the difference between lighting for texture and matte, and lighting for glossy. While both are photographic lighting, they have very different results if approached the same way.

I approach shooting something shiny differently than shooting texture or matte. The reason? Texture and matte will not show my light sources and shiny will – absolutely.

One place that shiny surface exist in an otherwise matte area are eyes. Eyes are quite efficient because they are a glossy surface with moisture. Can’t get more efficient than that.

Eyes absolutely reflect the source of the light. If you are shooting with a big umbrella, it will be seen in the eyes. If the choice is a softbox, it will be seen as a square highlight in the eyes. A photographer can even simulate ‘window’ light by putting black tape in a grid pattern across the softbox diffusion panel, and the eyes will render it as ‘window panes’… pretty cool, eh?

And it is a challenge too. Eyes reveal what the light source is, where it is, and how many lights were used. We can see reflectors and occasionally ourselves, in the reflections from the eyes.

Example of eyes;

As you can see, the eyes are so glossy they reflect the square softbox used for the main light. Look closely and you will see the white card in front of her providing the ‘beauty fill’ to the underside of chin, nose, and eyes. Surrounding the super efficient eyes is a more matte surface that allows the light to be diffused in presentation.

Another area on a face that can become efficient is the lips. We can add lipstick or lip gloss to enhance the surface efficiency of that area. After adding shiny lipstick, the lips will begin to reflect the light source absolutely, but because the area is small, and still has texture, the source is not revealed absolutely as it is with the eyes.

Shiny, efficient surfaces, like glassware and computers, become a challenge because of the rounded edges and absolute reflections of the surroundings.

Controlling the area around the shiny subject can be as important as the lighting itself. I have large black pieces of cloth that I regularly hang to make sure that the studio itself is not registering as a reflection in some of the glossy objects I shoot.

When shooting subjects with high surface efficiency, control is the word of the day; Control of the surroundings, control of the light, and control of the reflection. Other than all those control issues, shooting shiny stuff is a piece of cake.

Just put the light at the angle that puts it where you want to see it reflecting from the subject. Done.


Well, yeah, there is a little more to it than that.

And we are going to go into depth with all the controls we can use as we progress through the course.


  1. Find glossy items and photograph them in the natural world, and then surround them with white cards in such a way they reflect those cards back to you.
  2. Explore ways to show how glossy something is by using the light source reflecting in it.
  3. Photograph cars or motorcycles with interesting reflections.
06: Subject Properties: Part Two

06: Subject Properties: Part Two

Matte Surfaces

These are surfaces that are not as rough as texture, but not smooth either. Skin, cloth, natural leather, finished woods and many food items are examples. Most of what we deal with in our daily lives would fall under the Matte surface example.

Matte surfaces have a softer way of showing us the reflection of the light source. Where texture showed us mini sources next to mini shadows, the matte surfaces have less of a drastic presentation. The surface doesn’t have that much difference between the size of the components of the texture. A cloth book cover has texture, but it is much more tightly confined than say old barn wood.

And the reflection of the source is shown as a larger area rather than many tiny reflections. This gives the texture a smooth and not altogether recognizable shape. There is an angle where the incidence will match the reflection, and be seen by the camera, but it will be a muted reflection, not a harsh one.

EXAMPLE of Matte Surface reflection of the light source. You can clearly see the reflection of the source, but the transition to the non-reflective areas is gradual and not defined.

The ballet shoes are most defintely NOT a highly textured object, nor are they glossy.

Skin is one area of great interest. Portrait, beauty and fashion photographers have to be able to control the way skin looks for their imagery. And skin can present some widely diverse efficiency. Dry skin has a very matte look, wet skin becomes more efficient due to the water, and then the reflection is nearly absolute, and skin color can become an issue with the wrong kind of light presentation.

A good makeup artist helps to smooth out skin blemishes, we know. But the MUA also helps to matte the skin evenly so that the reflections of the light sources do not create very bright reflections on the face.

A model begins to sweat…err, sorry, perspire with the heat, and the skin becomes a bit more efficient due to the moisture. Liquid is much more efficient than skin, so the perspiration on the face becomes shinier. The remedy is a little bit of powder, which of course renders the skin more matte and less efficient.

Faces are full of contours and angles that can reflect the light source back to us. Tips of noses, eyebrows, cheeks, chins and foreheads are all areas of concern when we are shooting with light that has a small source. The small source can become a direct reflection on even matted skin, so keeping it within our tolerances is very important.

Again, you can see the very soft transition from the highlight to the non-highlight matte surface, where as the gloss lipstick provides a sharp, immediate transition to the non-reflective area.

Photoshop Note:

Trying to fix a small highlight on the tip of the nose, or one that is across the whole front of the forehead is painstaking and difficult. It can be done, of course, but working with the subject to make sure he/she is not rendering the light back to you in such a way as to need the Photoshop is much more preferable.

There may be times when we may want to enhance the matte texture, to make it more discernible, and bring out the texture instead of mitigating it.

Angle of incidence again comes to the fore. Angled to present even the smallest texture, the photographer can decide between broad light, like a softbox, or sharper light, like a direct, unmodified head, or a snoot.

Example of enhanced texture: Portrait of Tomas.

Even with the matte surface of the skin, by using a small lightsource (beauty dish at a distance) we can create more texture in this portrait by putting the light at more of a wide distance from the camera. This adds some texture from the sidelit properties of the subject. Enhancement in Photoshop is then easy, and keeps the matte surface for a cleaner presentation of skin.

Matte surfaces are where we can experiment and work with light to play down or enhance, or simply show it as it really is.

And most matte surfaces can be altered to create something more efficient or less. As we have seen, powder for skin can take away the ‘shine’ that we know is really the reflection of the light. Water or liquid can add sheen to the subject when we want the reflection. And we can use materials to create shine, like wax on a wood floor to enhance the matte to be more shiny by showing the reflection of the light as it renders back to us.

Remember that we all KNOW what shiny looks like, what matte feels like and how rough something is. It is part of what we learn from the beginnings of our lives. We touched, we saw, we felt… and we learned. Photographers aren’t creating anything new, we just learn to present it to others the way we want them to see it.

To recap:
Textured surfaces present small highlights and shadows because of the rough surface and how it reflects light. From a stone to a mountain, the texture can be enhanced by playing up the highlight and darkening the shadow.

Matte surfaces will show the highlight softly, allowing it to transition to the non-reflective part of the surface in a more gradual effect. This may be the most prevalent surface we have around us.


  1. Look around at the matte surfaces. they will most likely be more numerous than very texturized things, or very shiny things. Take some time to quietly study what light does when it is refracted from them.
  2. Note how different light (direct / indirect) reflects from the surface. Make images showing the difference.
  3. Examine the ways that matte surfaces can become textured (heavy side/top light), or shiny (wetting the surface down changes its ability to render the highlight and now it becomes more efficient).
05: Subject Properties: Part One

05: Subject Properties: Part One


Let me say that again. Everything reflects.

Some things reflect more than others. Some surfaces are more reflective than others.

But since everything reflects, we are sometimes presenting what that subject reflects rather than ‘bouncing’ light into a dark area.

In portraiture, I think of providing the shadow side of the face something to reflect back to me rather than ‘filling’ as in creating light on a dark surface. The reason is that the cheek and chin and hair on the shadow side can be made to reflect the object I have placed there if it will indeed be within the angle of reflection to my camera.

I believe I get more control that way. The brighter the ‘reflectors’ the brighter the reflections back to me. Moving the reflector away from the subject increases the distance, and the reflection becomes less bright.

One of the chief reasons that things reflect the way they do is the surface of the subject. Smooth surfaces may reflect absolutely, with lots of contrast, while adding texture will cut down on the reflection of the light and actually cause it to be presented with less contrast.

It is this nature of the subject that I focus on first when deciding what kind of light to use.

I will say this before we go on… there is NO one way or right way or best way do make images. There is your way and my way and her way and his way and on and on. I will present to you what I do and you are free to take it and modify/adjust/deconstruct/start over or discard what I do. It’s OK. In fact it is what I want you to do. Take this information and make it yours. Utilize subject centric lighting in your own way and make better photographs.

Surfaces have a couple of distinct parameters for us to explore: rough, smooth matte, shiny and combinations of all three sometimes. And each one of them reflects light back to us in different and particular ways.

Shiny, glossy surfaces, matt surfaces, and textured surfaces.

We will first look at textured surfaces.

Texture is what I see first when I start to look at a subject. I just do. Of course color and shape and all play into it, but the light has its way with texture, and I notice how it is presented back to the camera. In nature it can help me decide the angle of my camera to subject and in the studio it helps me decide on what kind of lights/modifiers I will be using.

I can choose to either enhance or mitigate texture by using the angle of the light as it is presented to the subject and back to me. A very rough wood wall with light scraping down across it shows a lot of texture, and I can use that angle of light to reveal that texture to my viewers. If I decide to lessen the contrast I can wait for a cloud to come between the sun and the subject, or go around the subject to see if there is texture wood in the shade. It will still be a texture, but it will have less contrast between the bright part of the texture detail and the shadow side.

The cloud lowers the contrast just as being in the shade does. In simple form, the light source becomes larger than the detail of the texture, but we will discuss this further in the next chapter.

If the light is on either horizon, I can change the look of the texture by changing where I put the light in relation to the subject – in relation to the camera.

Light from the side shows more texture. Light from the camera means less texture. The reason is that there is more contrast between the highlights and the shadows cast on the sidelight than there is with the light coming from the same direction as the camera. The light behind the camera actually doesn’t show shadow to the camera (angle of incidence = angle of reflection) while the sidelight throws shadows and creates contrast.

Texture shows the viewer how rough an area is, or what kind of surface they would find if they were there. It delineates the shape of details and it gives us information beyond what we would see on the surface. Old things have lots of texture from the weather or the sun. Areas that are full of texture have lots of visual energy. The eye knows that the light is playing on something that shows itself with character and charm. Cookies have to have texture, as does old barn wood. We want to see the texture in an old book as we want to see it in a pasta dish or leather jacket.

In the picture below, I am using a hard light to emphasize the texture of the pods. A small light source placed at a side angle to the pods and camera gives me highlight and shadow with very little transition between.

You can see the side light in the stems and the rim of light that is created by the quick fall off from reflection of the light source to the shadow.

Texture gives us context, and it is nearly unconsciously understood. We have seen what light does to texture our whole lives, so when we go to photograph it, we are naturally drawn to those times of day and places where the texture is well rendered.

But there are places where texture may not be as welcome. A subject’s face or skin may not be considered a good thing when rendered with a lot of texture. Unless, of course, they are quite interesting with the texture rendered. Age is something we can show with texture – and along with that inspiration, wisdom and the universal knowledge of what aging does to us all.

The old brick wall that Jamie is running on shows lots of texture due to the sidelight (top light) giving us edges and shadows.

A close inspection shows us the highlights on top of the bricks and then the many indentations exacerbated by highlight and shadow with a fast fall off. This is created by using a small light source – the sun – and a large subject – the wall.

We want our things to be rendered as we expect them to be in real life. Water is wet, rough-hewn wood should look like it is a splinter waiting to happen, glassware should be very smooth, and skin should be smooth and attractive.

Sure there are examples of things being rendered in an un-natural state – and that’s fine. I am talking in a generality here, and one with a lot of history to back it up. While there may be an example of two of rough, scary skin on teenage girls, the vast majority will reject that image instantly.

This shot of cracked earth exhibits many of the properties of a subject / light relationship. Notice how much texture is shown due to the small light source side lighting the cracked earth. The sun is a small light source, and you see no soft, wrapping light, In addition, there is a bright spot in the middle of the image created by the specular – although it is a bit diffused, the dried mud is still reflective enough to show us a reflection of the sun at the same angle from camera. If I moved left or right, I would change where that bright spot was because it was locked into the same angle as my camera from the other side.

I chose to place my exposure one stop less than the recommended exposure to increase the feeling of a vignette.

Small lightsource, at a side (back) angle and a slightly reflective surface gives us more to work with than just a dried mud slab.

Texture is also shown by the angle of incidence rule. If we choose to include the light as a part of the composition, for instance, we may choose to include its direct reflection back into the lens. A highlight on a shiny surface will show us how shiny it is by the relationship of the light and the surface around it. A less smooth surface may make a softer reflection of the light source, and that will also tell us about the surface texture.

In this detail of an alto saxophone, the light is coming from the top back and it leaves small speculars on the areas that are efficient (shiny) and emphasizes the texture of the old keys and metal discoloration.

There are many places where we can use the reflection of the light source to create a cool looking gradation or highlight to create some interest as a point of composition as well.

The main point of this composition is the light on the wooden tools. By making sure the matte textured tools have a soft, directional light without any fill, the texture of the wood shows clearly in the image.

Ways to create texture:


Top light.

Hard light (small source).

Backlight can also be used in many situations.


  1. Shoot a textured item (product / thing) to show the texture and find ways to mitigate or lessen the texture. Hint – front light nearly always kills texture, and sidelight nearly always makes it stronger.
  2. Take a single textured item – like a shoe – and using your flashes or studio lighting, create as many different texture shots as you can using only one light – no fill.
  3. Look for texture in nature and shoot images that emphasize and also lessen the texture just by walking around the subject to see different angles of light to subject to camera.
04: Lighting Principle Four: Angle of the Light Source to Subject / Camera

04: Lighting Principle Four: Angle of the Light Source to Subject / Camera

Lighting Principle Number Four: The Angle of the Light to the Subject and the Camera

Law of Physics: Angle of Incidence equals the Angle of Reflection.

This is an axiom that a lot of people hear and repeat without taking careful note of what it means to their photography.

And yet it is one of the most basic and important physical rules of subject centric lighting.

What does it mean and how can we use this to our advantage?

It means that if the light is angled toward a subject, the reflection of that light will be presented back to the camera at the same angle.

Think of the game of billiards or pool. If you hit a ball into the wall at a 30% angle, the ball will come off that wall at a 30% angle. And that completes a triangle. Understanding that triangle is key to making quicker, smarter lighting decisions.

It means that you have to be able to judge the angle of the light as it strikes the subject and understand what that light will do once it strikes the subject. If there is something being reflected in your subject, look at the camera angle from the other side and you will find what it is.


Some things reflect more than others, but everything you see is simply the reflection of the light from its surface.

I call it ‘presentation’, and when I discuss lighting, I use the word presentation to talk about how the light looks to the viewer.

Once we realize that the angle of the light source to the subject, and the incident angle of that light source to the subject is going to present to us in ways we can control, lighting becomes so much easier to create.

Think of the way the light strikes hair on a slightly backlit portrait. The reason the hair becomes so much brighter is because it is round in shape, and somewhere on that round, shiny hair is going to be that same angle of incidence that the camera is seeing.

An example.

You can see how bright that hair is with the sun shining on it, and each tiny hair reflecting that sun back to the camera.

In the image below, I used a large softbox in order to get a shiny, reflective area off of the wall behind the subject and create a gradient to the background. You can see in the illustration that the angles of reflection come back to the camera on the left side of the model, but not on the right side of the model. The wall is a semi-gloss wall and provides a nice, soft reflection of the light source.

Let’s take a closer look at that triangle that is formed by the light to the subject, the subject to the camera, and the light to the camera.

It is being able to see that triangle (shown above with the blue line) and to then visualize the presentation of the light that makes it easier to control. Once you begin to see those angles, and the way they will present back to the camera, lighting can become much more of a finessed technique rather than a flailing exercise.

Let’s talk about direction.

There are three major directions of light and one that doubles as a direction. I will explain.

This is front lighting. The light comes from the side of the camera, and it can be angled quite a bit (90 degrees). The presentation is full angle of incident / angle of reflection, and you can control that fall of incidence by where you place the camera in relationship to the light and to the subject angle.

Front light:

You can see that from right to left there is 180 degrees of placement that will allow you to have front light. There is one point in the middle, however, that is at the same angle as the camera. We call that “on-axis” lighting and is a favorite of beauty and fashion shooters.

On-axis lighting is from the position angle of the camera to the subject, not necessarily at the distance of the camera. That means there is no triangle (horizontally) from light to subject to camera. As you can imagine the reflection is straight back into the camera. A wide, soft light with few shadows.

In the diagram below we see side lighting and backlighting. Side lighting is as its name suggests, directly from the side of the subject creating a 90-degree angle to the camera angle.

When we move the lights farther back from sidelighting, we have backlight. Backlight has all the same angle variations as does the front lighting.

Top lighting from directly above is the same as side lighting if it is at a 90-degree angle to the subject/camera. If it is slightly in front it is front light, and slightly behind it is backlight.

Front Light One

Front Light Two

Side Light One

Side Light Two

As you can see above, the angle of the light to the subject, and to the camera, makes a big difference when you are working toward making the shot look a specific way.

Let’s wrap it up:

The four different properties of lighting are: 

  • Size of the light source in relationship to the subject.
  • Distance of the light source from the subject.
  • Color of the light, and its relationship (if any) to the prevailing ambient.
  • Angle of the light source to the subject, and to the camera.

And NONE of them are the most important – they are all equally important. We don’t think of them in an hierarchical way, we think of them in a holistic, symbiotic way. Change one, you may have to indeed change another. Change that one, and you may have to alter two others to make it work for you.

All of this only matters to you if you know what you want your image to look like. Do you want soft light, or do you want hard-edged light? Do you want a mixed light image that looks natural, or do you want to play with color temps in a creative way? If we move our light closer or farther away, what does that do to the look of the image? Do we need to bring out texture, or is a flatter look our goal?

These questions are usually not asked in order in our brains. All of them are asked at the same time, and we react to these creative decisions by utilizing the tools we have for creating them.

And now, with these basics, we can begin to create the images to present OUR vision of the subject in front of our lens.


  • Find a subject that allows you to move around it and make images from all the different lighting positions. Do this either early in the morning or late in the afternoon so the sunlight is closer to your head height to the subject.

    Shoot front light, side light, back light, axis light. Study the images to see how the subject changes in the different lighting positions. Print the images and make notations on how it, and the background, look to you. What changes do you see?

  • Using your flash or continuous lights, do the same thing with a subject inside. You can choose something as a still life, or – if you are a people shooter – grab a subject and start moving that light from on-axis to back.

    Note that when your light is backlight ONLY, the subject is quite dark, possibly even silhouette. You can adjust for that or not – your call. but remember that your adjustments will play the same role as the main light in the angle of light to subject to camera.