Angle of Light

Light is the most important part of the photo. Why is this so? If there were no light, you would be in complete darkness. So would your photo. There are many aspects of light that are important to making a good photo. Today I will be talking about the angle of light and how choosing the proper angle can make a tremendous difference in your photo.

Light My Room Please

Let’s pretend we are in a room with no windows and all the lights turned off. It would be pretty dark. I know there are plenty of objects in the room because I put them there. But, I cannot see a thing. Certainly, it is not worth taking a picture. What if we turned on the overhead light? Most everything would be lit from above. You can see everything in the room but it is not very interesting. Who really wants to see a picture of a room full of stuff? And, perhaps more important, all the objects would look flat – not very interesting lighting from above produces a not very interesting scene.

Let’s now change things up a bit. I’m turning our overhead light off. We are again in darkness. I whip out my flashlight (pardon me sir, are you happy to see me or is that a flashlight in your pocket), turn it on, and shine it at an object in our room. I’ll choose the table lamp in the corner with the funky shade. What do you see now? The front of the lamp is nicely lit with the sides getting darker as you look around its circumference, giving the lamp some depth. More interesting, there is a really cool shadow on the wall. We get two interesting lighting effects from a simple light source: a lamp with some depth to it and an interesting shadow on the wall. That’s the power of lighting.

Light My Mountain

Let’s switch gears and talk a bit about natural lighting. We’ll apply the principle discussed above to the outdoors and see what we get.

First we need to select a place to shoot. I choose the famous “Toadstool” at the Paria Rimrocks in Utah. They are not great but they do illustrate the points I am making. Second, we need to pick a light source. I’d use my flashlight (which is pretty big) but I need a lot more light. And, I cannot afford to buy enough flashlights to light up this toadstool and surrounding area. Does anyone know of an affordable light source that is big enough to light up our scene? I only know of one! It’s our sun.

With the sun selected as our lighting, let’s point it at the Toadstool and see what we get. Here is where we get into trouble. I can’t point the sun for it’s too hot, too big, and 93 million miles away. We may be stuck. We can’t point the sun at our Toadstool. How do all those photographers get beautiful shots with sunlight bathed on a rock formation such as this? They (and we) need use time to point the sun. How? As you know, the sun position in the sky is based on the time of day. At noon, the sun is overhead, at 6:00 AM, the sun is low on the eastern horizon, and at 6:00 PM, the sun is low on the western horizon. Knowing where the sun is will help us immensely.


To get the results we want, we need to position our sun at the horizon to get interesting lighting results. This means we need to photograph our rock formation at sunrise or sunset. Here are a couple photos from our experiment. The photo on the left was shot at 2:00 pm while the photo on the right was shot at 5:00 pm. Notice the better depth and definition of all the rocks – same rocks at different times.

This is a shot of our toadstool at mid-day with the light above. The rock in the foreground does not have much definition and the toadstool looks at bit flat.

This is a shot of our toadstool near sunset. The rock in the foreground has a lot of definition and the toadstool has a glow to it.

Which angle of light do you prefer?

Over the next few months, I will continue to delve into lighting in more detail. Next time the subject will be color of light. If you are interested, follow along this category of blog posts I am doing: Photography LearningInstruction.

And, remember, it’s all about the light! Really!