Exercise: Variety with a low sun

The brief:

You can choose any subjects for this project, but they must be in sunlight. Take as many pictures as possible, but aim to produce four as a final result as follows:

  • frontal lighting, with the sun behind the camera, striking the subject fully
  • side lighting, with the sun to the left or right. More or less half of the subject will be lit, half in shadow.
  • back lighting, shoot towards the light.
  • edge lighting, this is a special condition for shooting towards the sun, in which the sun is outside the viewfinder frame and the edge of the subject is lit.

It had snowed during the night (which provided a nice bokeh in some of my photos) and I persuaded my youngest son who had just returned from a trail run up the mountain to pose for me in the back garden. The photos were taken just a little over an hour before sunset and shot with daylight white balance. The only post processing involved was cropping.

Fig 01 - frontal lighting

Fig 01 – frontal lighting
f2.5, 1/4000, 50mm, ISO 100

The sun, even at this low angle is still strong, so I had my son face the sun directly and turn his head just a tad towards me. The light is quite harsh. With the focal point on my son, the background is thrown into shadow.

Fig 02 - side lighting

Fig 02 – side lighting
f2.5, 1/2000, 50mm, ISO 100

The side lighting creates a more dramatic look with half the face in the shadows, but is still a bit harsh. There is definitely more visual interest than in the frontal lighting image. It would have been nice to have a reflector handy to get rid of the dark shadow under his eye on camera right.

Fig 03 - back lighting

Fig 03 – back lighting
f2.5, 1/2000, 50mm, ISO 100

I have noticed previously when taking backlit photos that there always seems to be an atmospheric haze to the image, which is quite visible in this photo. The sun has cast a bit of a rim light around my son’s head and shoulders creating a nice separation from the background (a walnut tree). With the sun positioned behind him – even though he is standing fully in the sun – I’m seeing a slight blue cast to the photograph. A switch to cloudy white balance would have warmed the image slightly.

Fig 04 - edge lighting

Fig 04 – edge lighting
f2.8, 1/640, 50mm, ISO 100

A slight swivel on the heel for my son and I have (hopefully) edge lighting. The sun is still behind my son, but the light is now wrapping around the side of his head, ear, neck and shoulder (camera right side) and creating a nice jawline. The edge light is a soft light.