Tag Archives: Soft shadow

Sidelight – How to capture great texture in your photographs

Rippled Sand • Sidelight creates a lovely texture

• Rippled Sand •
Beautiful soft sidelight from bottom left creates lovely shadows after each ripple. Had the shot been taken with flash from above, the ripples would have been near invisible.
Rippled sand by Seldom Scene Photography, on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

The capture of texture depends on the angle of light.

It is that simple. The lower you get your light to the side of your subject the more you will create shadows that stand out. Photographers have long recognised the benefit of long shadows for their definition in landscapes. Beside the great colours of sunset, the long shadows from sidelight provide character and definition to the landscape.

The same idea can be applied to the much smaller scale. Still life, studio set-ups and even drying paint can all be enhanced by sidelight. When working with smaller subjects, “get in tight and sidelight” is great advice.

Vintage Store Photo Challenge

This is the best video I have seen on working with smaller objects and side lighting. Gavin Hoey explains with an off-camera flash how to bring out texture and detail in still life photos. This is a very simple lesson. After seeing it you will want to explore side lighting further.

After the video there are some more resources on the subject…


Approaching sidelight with your images

In the video Gavin Hoey used a diffused speedlight, off-camera flash. In the post “Off-camera flash” you can find out all about what they are and the functions they provide.

If you want to improve your off-camera flash working with some sort of diffuser is a great idea. I have worked with a range of off-camera flash diffusers over the years and often been disappointed. I am really enthusiastic about the Rogue Flashbender range of diffusers. I use the Large Rogue Flashbender and the diffuser to go with it for work and my own projects. It is an exceptionally flexible piece of kit and occupies only a tiny space in your kitbag since it rolls up very tightly. The whole Rogue Flashbender range are great products and worth checking out.

One of the great tools I keep within reach when doing table top photography is the little LED light unit below. Designed for camping it has become a great light for my table top product work. It is small, adaptable and very cheap to run as it uses very little battery power.

I have two of these and place them on the table lying down or on end. The light itself is quite white so it will not give you colour casts. If the light is too harsh I just cover the LED panel with tracing paper or ordinary (white) toilet tissue. The tissue-light is gorgeous, soft and easy to use. These are excellent products and inexpensive to buy. They are probably the simplest way to set up a table top sidelight.

Working with people, stronger light gives you more control over freezing your subject. For portrait work a flash helps. To freeze a portrait for a sharp picture use a brighter light and a short exposure. A side-lit portrait is 100% better than a pop-up flash shot where the light is straight on. For this, the off-camera flash is the way to go. You have the flexibility to create a sidelight that creates shadows that define the face. Make the light as soft as possible so the shadows wrap around. Avoid hard or harsh shadow lines on faces. It is not flattering.

At the other end of the scale the low intensity light of the LED panels allows for long exposures when using static subjects. Use a longer shutter time if you want your subject to be lit more brightly. Of course to do that you will need a way of steadying your camera for long exposures. A tripod is probably best in this situation.

The way to go…

In the wilds, or doing table-top studies the best light comes in from a shallow angle as sidelight. It is the shadows that define objects and bring out strong textures. Look for side lighting where ever you can, and create it yourself if the natural light can’t do it for you.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

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Three little known facts about shadows

What is shadow? Why is it so important in photography?

What is shadow? Why is it so important in photography?

Shadow is difficult to understand… it’s, well, shadowy.

To a photographer the nature of shadow is the second most important concept we work with, but most don’t understand what it is. Here is a look at three ideas to help you know shadow.

First, you may ask, what is the most important concept to a photographer before shadow? Light… it’s the very centre of photography. It is also the reason we have shadow.

Fact no. 1 – It’s all in the difference

Light and shadow are in fact the same thing. They are not opposites. Dark is the absence of light – a pretty rare thing in modern times. But, shadow is the difference between a particular light intensity and a lower light intensity next to it. Shadow is created by an object intercepting the light from a light source. Light passing the object will be brighter than the light where the beam has been blocked.

Fact no. 2 – It’s not dark in the shadow because…

Light is pretty fickle stuff. It travels in straight lines (direct light) unless it bounces off something. In fact light will bounce off almost anything – even the atmosphere. We see everything around us because light has bounced off things and then entered our eyes. Places with a lot of light bouncing around from different objects and in many directions is said to have diffused light. Some of that light will be bounced into shadow areas. It lightens the shadows. Some light is produced by big light sources like a photographer’s umbrella. This causes a less direct or soft light. The soft light source creates shadows with poorly defined edges. The shadows have a gradual transition from light to the darker shadow areas. Where soft light and diffusion occurs you get less shadow and it is poorly defined.

Fact no. 3 – Direct light and little diffusion equals hard light

Direct light, where there is little diffusion, creates sharp edges on the shadows. The shadow abruptly stops and the brighter light starts. This is called hard light and is normally created by a small light source. Because there is little diffusion the shadow is more intense. This is because there is no diffused light bouncing into the shadow area to lighten it. Hard light and little diffusion creates well defined shadows.

Where does this lead us

The photographer works mainly with light intensity, direction, colour and hardness. Together these components create the quality of light that is so important for successful photography. We intuitively understand intensity and direction. Colour in light is something that we gradually learn to see (harsh blue of mid-day to the golden glow of dusk).

Most photographers don’t immediately see the difference between hard and soft light, and what the effects are on shadow formation. However, shadows are of great importance because they define what we see many ways. More intense shadows stand out more. As they catch our eye we are better able to see what is causing them. As we do so we become aware of the shapes and forms that are sculpting the shadows. In other words, shadows help to give definition to the objects and world around us.

Photography is a two dimensional media. We are very experienced at seeing the world in three dimensions. When we see a flat representation of the world we are able to interpret it in three dimensions because we understand how shape and form are portrayed by the light/shadow relationship. So get to know shadows, hard and soft. Become skilled at capturing them in your images. You will be better able to create a three dimensional world for your viewer – even within a two dimensional medium.