The direction (position) of light

When it comes to the direction of light, there are 360 degrees of possibilities. When the light isn't working for you, change it by moving your position, your subject's position, or the light itself, if possible.

High front light (sunlight)
We are trained early on that high front light is the best type of light, and often it is.


  • Most of the scene is well lit.
  • Bright sunny days bring out the colors of a scene.

  • Sunlight may cause your subjects to squint.
  • Very high sunlight (seen at noon) will create deep shadows under eyes and chins, unless you use fill flash.

Front light
Front lighting illuminates the portion of the subject facing the photographer. Your camera's flash is the most common type of front lighting.


  • Provides the most information to the camera by lighting the entire scene.
  • Easiest type of light to deal with photographically because there are fewer shadows to confuse the camera's light meter.

  • Can be a bit boring—pictures lack volume and depth.
  • Textures and details are minimized. Scenes appear flat with few shadows.
  • Flash pictures may result in very bright subject areas and very dark backgrounds, if the background is beyond flash range.

Side light
Side lighting is perfect when you want to emphasize texture, dimension, shapes, or patterns. Side lighting sculpts a subject, revealing contours and textures. Use side lighting to exaggerate dimension and depth. At a 45-degree angle to the side, it's one of the most flattering types of portrait lighting.


  • Can separate the subject from the background.
  • Conveys depth, as in a landscape at sunset.
  • Conveys texture, as in a weathered tree, fence, or plowed field.

  • May be too severe for some subjects, creating some areas that are too bright, and some that are too dark. (See Fill flash to compensate.)

Back light
Light that comes from behind your subject is by far the trickiest to use, but the dramatic results may be worth the effort.


  • Simplifies a complicated scene by emphasizing the subject, as in a silhouette.
  • Provides a flattering halo of light in portraits.
  • Adds strong shadows in landscapes.

  • Lack of detail in a dark subject.
  • Causes lens flare resulting in low contrast and strange light spots across the picture.
  • Using exposure compensation to overcome backlighting results in too-bright background.

Note: In backlit situations, prevent lens flare by shielding your camera with a hat, hand, or book—enough to shade your camera lens but not obscure your subject.

Some tips and techniques to consider:

  • Turn the flash off and use –1.0 or –2.0 exposure compensation for a dramatic silhouette—perfect for sunsets with a tree, boat, or person in the foreground.
  • Use +0.5 or +1.0 exposure compensation (or your backlight compensation button) to properly expose your subject. Your background may get too light or even washed out.
  • Use fill flash—an excellent option for portraits where you want that glowing “halo” of rim light but need to brighten shadows or prevent a silhouette.
  • Use a white reflector card (poster board works) to reflect light back onto your subject—especially useful for close-ups like flowers.
  • Move in closer, filling the frame with your backlit subject, so the brighter surrounding light doesn't confuse your camera.