PART 4 LIGHT  –  EXERCISE  Variety with a Low Sun

This is an Exercise to demonstrate some of the advantages of shooting a subject when the sun is low. There are a number of benefits that can be gained from shooting during the ‘golden hour’ when the sun is low on the horizon, whether it be early or late in the day.  These include : –

i).    the softness and warm coloured hues of the light; ii).   the very shallow angle of the sun’s rays which can produce long, raking shadows and clear variation in the lighting across the width of an object; iii).  reduced light intensity so that shooting towards or even into the sun can be possible. I tried to explore these qualities in my photo shoot.

For convenience I chose to shoot in the evening as the sun was dropping towards the horizon and I used two different subjects, one light in colour and with a textured surface, a whisky decanter, and the other dark and with a smooth surface, a wine bottle, to see what differences there were between them in terms of the light effects.  The camera was mounted on a tripod for steadiness in the relatively low light conditions and an ISO setting of 500 was set to allow a shutter speed of 1/160th sec.  with relatively high apertures to give a reasonable depth field.

Four groups of shots were taken as follows :-

1.   With front lighting the sun being behind the camera and striking the subject fully.

2.   With side lighting, the light from the sun hitting the subject laterally creating shadow to the other side.

3.   With back lighting, shooting so that the subject has the sun behind and the camera is pointing towards the light source.

4.   With edge lighting, where the subject is lit to the edge only and the sun is out of shot.

—–   o0o   —–


IMG_0616f18  1/160th sec  ISO 500  + – 0 stop

IMG_0646 copy                                                                        f11 1/160th sec ISO 500   -1 stop

Taking care to avoid casting a shadow, I took the first two shots from a position between the sun and the subjects so that the light was shining directly on them.  The effect of this is that the full front face of each subject is lit relatively evenly except where the orb of the sun is caught which creates a highlight on the smooth surface of the bottle and multiple highlights on the complex surface of the decanter.  This frontal, even lighting limits the appearance of depth in the subject and makes for a rather flat image but it does give a clear suggestion of the two-dimensional shape of the object.

—–   o0o   —–


IMG_0620   f16 1/160th sec ISO 500   -1/3 stops


f10 1/160th sec ISO 500  – 1 1/3 stops

Side lighting has created the appearance of depth as the back faces of the two subjects are also illuminated adding interest to the images as does the variation in illumination and shadow across the subject resulting from the lateral fall of light.  To make the subjects stand out I positioned a black screen behind them.  In retrospect I wish I had given the bottle more space in the frame as it looks a little cramped, particularly at the top.

—–   o0o   —–


IMG_0640 copy

f29 1/160th sec ISO 500  – 2/3 stops


  f14 1/160th sec ISO 500  – 1 1/3 stops

Shooting into the sun was tricky and when I tried to photograph the decanter I found that I could not avoid the flare effect which in this case rather detracts from the image.  It was not a problem when shooting the bottle, possibly because the sun had dropped further by then and also I was shooting from a higher angle.  The light travelling through the subjects allows the colour of the liquid contents to be more visible adding colour highlight interest in the image.  In retrospect, a wider aperture setting and hence shallower depth of field, for the shot of the bottle might have enabled the subject to stand out more clearly against the background but I quite like the fact that the soft background is hinted at and the slight bokeh effect created.

—–   o0o   —–



f32 1/160th sec ISO 500 – 1 stop


f18 1/160th sec ISO 500  – 1 stop

Shot from a slightly higher angle and avoiding the direct sun, these shots were taken to try to get the effect of edge lighting.  In the case of the bottle, the light level had dropped to such an extent that I needed to get in close to capture the detail of the edge light.  In both subjects the small flare areas resulting from the angle of the sunlight create highlights which add sparkle and interest to the images.

—–   o0o   —-


How difficult can this be, I thought, before I started this Exercise.  I soon found out!  One sees this sort of photograph regularly in advertising and sales catalogues for summer outdoor living so it must just be a matter of sticking an object on a flat surface and snapping what’s in front of the lens.  I was wrong! Over-exposure, flare, under-exposure, depth of field issues, changing light conditions, choice of subject – the problems soon made their presence felt and solutions had to be found!  Careful positioning of both subject and camera in relation to the sun, constant awareness of the ‘family of angles’, adding and subtracting ‘f’ stops, experimentation and reviewing the results eventually gave me some results that I could be reasonably satisfied with just before the light went.

What did I learn?  I learnt that evening light produced beautiful effects of hue and depth that would not have been achievable in bright daylight; that angled light created depth and interest in the final image; that trial and error are required if worthwhile results are to be achieved; that different subjects require different approaches; that attention to detail is essential; and, finally, that I have much practicing to do if I am to learn how to achieve quality results regularly and with confidence.  I also have greater respect for those engaged in advertising and catalogue shoots!

What will I do next?  I will look at the work of others shooting subjects in dawn / dusk lighting and see how my technique and vision can be improved.

———-     o0o     ———-

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