Where is the Light Coming From?

Where is the Light Coming From?

Using light well is a trademark of most successful photographers. Lets take a slightly closer look at one of the key components of light. Its direction!

There are four main directions for you to consider in the natural world. 

  1. Front Lit Subject
  2. Side Lit Subject
  3. Top Lit Subject
  4. Back Lit Subject

Front Lit Subject : This is what I would like to call the Text Book Photography setup. You have a subject in front of you and the source of light coming from behind you. This makes the light fall directly on the subject and you get a generally evenly lit subject with light reflecting straight into the camera. This is by far the most commonly used method and you canโ€™t go really wrong with it. It gives lovely details of subjects as seen in the images below. At the same time, this is also the least creative of the lot. It is the mode which lends the least amount of shadows. They make for pretty portraits but add a story component to it and it will then shine really nicely. When you start off with photography, this one is the first to get a hold on. Here are a few standard portraits that wont fail technically but wont score as great pictures as they lack a story. 

Watch out for the angle of the sun. The lower it is hanging in the sky, the deeper its impact. For e.g. the Cheetah image here could’ve done with a lower sun. The Fox image has those lovely hues because of the low hanging sun in the sky. Front-lit are generally the easiest to expose, just follow the basic rules of keeping an eye out for the background. A background darker than your subject means under-expose and a background brighter than your subject means over-expose.

Side Lit Subject : This one is generally a favorite of the creative portrait photographers. It lends some dark shadows on one side of the subject and renders itself very well to create some dramatic images. When you have texture in your subject, side-lit works brilliantly to bring out every single detail because of its rendering of shadows. It is a tricky one to handle in terms of exposure because it is the kind of light that can confuse the camera, so make sure you have your concepts right before getting into the side-lit world. Here are a couple of examples of the same. A delight to work with most of the times, you need to look out for these..A good hold on the exposure handling is a must in this one, as more often than not you would end up under-exposing or over-exposing depending on the effect that you are looking for. Most of the images below have a negative exposure compensation (under-exposed) dialed in.

Top Lit Subject : Seldom does one recommend Top Lit images in wildlife photography and unfortunately a lot of times for wildlife photographers, opportunities come by in top-lit conditions. The least favorable because of the strong and harsh shadows it renders on the subject, this one is the toughest to create pleasing images in. With the quality of light being flat/white when this happens, this is a light angle that I would want to avoid mostly. Having said that moments rarely look at light and it is at such trying conditions that you need to do your best to come up with a pleasing image. Here are a few examples of the top-lit situation. The visual component has to be strongest in this light condition to make appealing images.

If you absolutely must click then ensure that the highlights are retained (Refer my last blog about Highlight-Alert to ensure this) and you can probably try and open up the shadows a little in the RAW file as needed.

Back Lit Subject : I generally keep my favorites for the last and Back-Lit is my absolute favorite when it comes to wildlife photography. I get these queer look from my drivers during wildlife safaris when I tell them to move the vehicle such that the subject is in front of the sun or the source of light (mainly the sun for wildlife). Thats because most people are used to following the โ€œFront Litโ€ approach and very few people try the more creative Back-Lit approach. Back-lit works magnificently well when the source of light is directly opposite to you, so with the sun, get the sun low in the horizon and you will see the magic of back-lit images. Silhouettes/Rim-Lit are just a couple of the interesting results that Back-Lit can achieve. With the Light coming in from behind the subject, it generally helps in making the subject stand out more and make the image look almost 3-d. Unlike Front Lit, this is not the mode to strive for just fine details but more of a setup where you want to convey the mood of the scene.  Its the easiest way to get creative ๐Ÿ™‚ … 

Backlit is almost like a nightmare to the camera because as per the cameras way of working, it will try to achieve an overall 18% grey out of this scene making it look like a complete washout. You need to be spot on with your exposure settings to try out this approach, but then, the earlier you start exploring the better you will get. Majority of times you would be under-exposing these images.


What about a cloudy day? What about when my entire scene is in complete shade? Lets cover those in the future blogs…


As usual, please do share the blog with your friends and do comment on this post. The next KYC series will be coming in soon and if you haven’t already posted your queries about the Camera, please do send them across to me so that I can cover it sooner.


Subscribe to My Blogs : Enter your email ID and name in the boxes below.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on Tumblr


  1. Manish Mandhyan May 15, 2017 at 5:49 am #

    Nice one Guruji! A little bit more in depth on how to get rim lit would be great.

  2. Meenal sachdev May 15, 2017 at 11:42 am #


  3. Ashish May 16, 2017 at 2:11 pm #

    Hi Rahul…Fantastic right up…& much needed….It would be great if you can recommend best exposure metering mode to choose for each of these four situations……

    • rahul.sachdev@gmail.com May 16, 2017 at 4:37 pm #


      I’ll try and take samples from each and come up with recommended settings for them.

      Will let you know once I do that.


Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *