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postheadericon Lighting Directions – Photography

As the day unfolds, the changing direction of sunlight reveals different aspects of the scene. Some are more appealing than others. All the possible variations of lighting direction cover a sphere surrounding the subject. In a studio, any of them can be used, but sunlight operates only over a hemisphere (apart from unusual reflections). There are, in fact, two directions to consider at the same time: the sun’s angle to the camera, and its angle to the subject. Together, they make too many permutations to classify sensibly, and we will concentrate here on the direction that has the main influence on the quality of illuminations: the angle to the camera.

Quality of illumination is primarily responsible for atmosphere and the overall image qualities. The angle of the sun to the subject is mainly important for those subjects that “face” in a particular directions, and in revealing plastic qualities such as shape, form, and texture. The lighting sphere in included here to make a deliberate comparison with studio lighting.

By far the majority of outdoor photographs are taken with a camera angle that is close to horizontal – at least within 10 or 20 degrees. For these, the lighting-sphere diagram holds true. The exceptions are extreme verticals, either up or down. Upward vertical shots, in any case, tend to produce disorientation, and this usually overwhelms other image qualities, such as lighting direction. Nevertheless, back lighting is a common condition of shots like this. Downward verticals, particularly over a distance, such as from high buildings and aircraft, are usually of a flat surface: the ground. Lighting considerations for this kind of picture are usually similar to those needed for revealing texture.

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