light # 6 – variety with low sun

the back garden, early

the back garden, early

“This is an exercise to demonstrate some of the advantages of shooting when the sun is low. Obviously, there is no sudden moment in the day when the sunlight switches between low and high but, as a guide, the sun is low within about two hours of sunrise and sunset, except in winter when it stays low for much of the day. In summer, this may not be a convenient time to go out shooting, but the results from getting up really early can be very rewarding. You can choose any subjects for this project, but they must be in sunlight.”

– AoP Coursebook

So, while he was down for the bit between Christmas and Hogmanay, I dragged James out for a walk down by the River Lea. When we were heading back home over the derelict golf course the light had dipped far enough to try out this exercise. The instruction was:

Take as many pictures as possible, but aim to produce four as a final result. If in doubt, bracket your exposures. If you can, complete all these pictures on one occasion. There is a tremendous variety of lighting, and you can capture this variety by changing your view point.

You can’t just assume with a 12 year old, but James was willing to pose and to turn this way and that so, here are the results:

frontal lighting – sun behind the camera, striking the subject fully. The lighting effect should appear intense, and any shiny parts of the subject will reflect the sun. You will probably have to be careful to avoid including in the picture shadows thrown by you and the camera


side lighting – sun to the left or right. More or less half of the subject will be lit, half in shadow. You should be aware that the shaded parts of the scene will affect the exposure reading; in other words, beware of overexposure


back lighting – shoot towards the light. Depending on whether the sun is in view or hidden behind the subject, the exposure may be difficult to predict, so bracket the exposures as described in Project: The intensity of light. If the sun is not so low and is very bright, don’t look directly at it – even through a viewfinder – as this can damage your eyes


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. This is not a common type of lighting and you may have to work hard to find it. If you choose a small or movable subject, you could move it into position against a shaded backdrop because a dark background shows up rim lighting more clearly.


I have converted all of these to black and white because the colour, while often vividly lovely – the background in the frontal lighting shot was particularly striking in its dense, warm and saturated palate – got in the way of seeing the lighting effect. Also, the tendency of the sky to blow out  – particularly in the back lighting picture –  allowed me to exploit the way that this seems somehow much less of a  heinous a crime in black and white than in colour…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.