Harsh light, soft light

After one starts to learn the basics of photography, you really have to take care no to become obnoxious. I’m far from being a great photographer, but I spend time studying and shooting, at the moment I have this large amount of nice classic images in my head and I’m struggling to recognize potential shots and to materialize the ones I identify into what I see in my head.

Coming back to being obnoxious 🙂 Several times you see things like people shooting a monument with a pop-up flash, or other non-sense stuff like this. One that seems a common knowledge among people that don’t really is into photography is the relation between taking a picture and the direction of the sun.

It has happened to me, more than once, and coming from people you’d “expect more”, that I’m asked to take someone’s picture (usually on the street) and the subjects places itself facing the harsh sun! Once I’ve heard a “let’s stand here in the sun so it looks better!”. OMG!

The idea for this post came from the latest happening when I was suppose to record some words for an event and the person in change suggested me to stand with the sun right on my face. I was force to say “no, this is the wrong light” and not to my surprise I had “no, the bad light is being backlit!”. STOP! Let’s go and talk about light 🙂

Direct sun light is terrible, for anything, unless intended! It’s very harsh, it leaves very defined shadows and blows away any detail where it hits. Apart from the fact that your subject (or subjects) will be squinting, what is not flattering to anyone (do you know someone that looks good squinting???), they will have very dark defined shadows on their faces and the rest will be very flat! Recipe for a horrible shot.

Example of harsh light with very hard shadows. (photo: luxurytravelmagazine.com)

Example of harsh light with very hard shadows. (photo: luxurytravelmagazine.com)

This link is a nice example on how harsh/soft light looks like on someones face, in a nice article form Kevin Ames.

The softness of a light source depends on it’s size. To be more precise and astronomical, on it’s angular size, not the physical size. The sun is huge, but at our distance it’s not more than a small disc in the sky, therefore very harsh. When it’s cloudy, the sun is still the source, but now behind the clouds the size of the diffuse is way larger, therefore very soft (you don’t see defined shadows in a cloudy day).

Of course there’s more to it than that, actually a lot more, but this is for other occasions (like when I learn it properly 🙂 ). For the moment keep in mind, don’t pose people in direct sun light! Take them to a shadowy place!


About Cris Da Rocha

Astrophysicist, DB manager, cyclist, musician and, why not, "photographer to be". Back to enjoy photography after many years ... it's cool. Might share something nice and get something new.
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