Position of Light in Photography

In today’s article, we shall look at how the position of light affects photography.

As a photographer, I am frequently asked, how do I get such blue skies in my photographs. Some people go to the extent of suspecting that I am capable of turning white sky blue. There is no such thing, of course. The surest way to get a blue sky in your photograph is to shoot your photo when the sky is blue. Having said that, there are a few things you need to be aware of when you’re taking photographs, especially when you are traveling.

position of light in photography

“Admiring the Landscape” captured by Alex Lewis (Click Image to See More From Alex Lewis)

Always be aware of the direction of the sun. This is so important that when I arrange a tour, I try to find out the direction of the sun and time it so it is in the best possible position when I visit. The sun is our ultimate light source, and the result of our travel photographs are often heavily dependent on where it happens to be.

Generally, you want the sun behind you when you take photos. That’s when you are more likely to get a blue sky, and shadows are all pushed away from you. Find out the direction that a tourist sight faces. If it faces east, visit it in the morning part of the day. If it faces west, visit it in the afternoon part of the day. If you are taking a photograph of people standing in front of a sight, the people should face the sun. That way, their faces are illuminated. Also, ask them to stand in the sun, so that their faces are not hidden in shadows.

Visiting during the wrong time of the day can really spoil your shots, and you may just get the site in shadows. Unfortunately, some times you don’t have a choice – I know so often that I have to accept less than perfect situations, whether the sky wasn’t as blue as I wish it should be, of simply, the sun was not in the right direction.

When we travel, we don’t have the luxury of returning to the same sight again and again if the weather wasn’t right. Under such circumstances, we have to just make do with what we have. Of course, in my case, I do my best to arrange the tours to coincide with the best time to see the places, to get the best weather, as well as to get the best lighting position.

If you arrive at a place at the wrong time of the day, walk around and look for fresh angles. If the sun is not illuminating the best angle, find other interesting angles where you can still take your photograph. You may just come up with highly original shots of the sight that no one has thought of before.

When taking outdoor shots, avoid mid-day. That’s when the sun is right at the top in the sky. The effect is rather “flat” photographs. Flat, but not flattering. If you have to continue shooting during mid day, then move indoors. Avoid situation where you have to depend on the sun for illumination.

light position tips in photography

“florie” captured by Flo Fairweather (Click Image to See More From Flo Fairweather)

Sunrise and sunsets are two instances when you would break the rule of having the sun behind you. During sunrise and sunset, if you want the tourist sight to appear in profile or silhouette, you would position it in front of the sun. Such artistic shots don’t work well to add people standing in front of it. If you stand people with a sunset or sunrise behind them, for sure their faces are going to be in shadow. One way to prevent the people coming out in darkness is to use a fill-in flash. But better still, remove the people all together.

About the Author
Timothy Tye enjoys traveling and photography (travelphotographyworkshop.com). He is also known as Tim the Traveler in the travel world.

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One Comment

  1. Wayne Farley says:

    Excellent tips. Thank you for the reminder. I try to do the same.

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