LOGIN/SIGN UP function is disabled for upgrade and maintenance. It will resume on 22/01/2022 10.30 AM SGT. Sorry for any inconvenience caused.
Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

[Lesson 14] Knowing Your Light Rays

Photos are works of art that combine light and shadow. Every photo appears different depending on how light strikes the subject. Let's start with the basics on the direction of light and how it can affect a photo.(Reported by: Ryosuke Takahashi)



Relationship between the light direction and the resultant shadow on the subject

Control the light and shadow to match the image of the photo you want to take


The shadow appearing on a subject is directly related to the direction of the light striking the subject. If the light strikes the subject directly from the front, no shadows will appear as they will be cast behind the subject. However, as the light is moved sidewaysa strong shadow will be cast in the direction opposite to the direction of the light. Shadows are necessary to impart a sense of solidity to the subject and its effects are used in actual photography as well. If you can understand the relationship between the direction of the light and the finishing, your photography skills will definitely improve.

Front light
Semi-front light
Side light
Backlight compensation

You will find that the shadow appears on the side opposite to the direction of the light. Understanding this phenomenon will be very useful in actual photography, as the kind of light used is dependent on the photographer’s preference.

Differences between front light and backlight in portrait photography

Front light

The way the shadow is cast can change the vibe and appearance of a person.


The light direction and amount of shadow cast in portrait photography has the effect of completely changing how a person's facial expressions appear to viewers, as shown in the photos. The photographer should choose a lighting condition to match the image he has in mind. The photo appears sharper if you use front light. If you use backlight, the shadows on the face disappear and the facial expression looks softer and gentler. Backlight is often used to photograph men as the clear shadows cast emphasize angles and chiselled features, whereas front light is often used for photographing women.


Shooting in front light

Aperture-Priority AE (1/640sec., f/5.6, -0.7EV)/ ISO 100/ WB: Daylight

Photo shot in front light with the sun behind the camera. All the objects are captured sharply and even objects in the background can be seen clearly. Front light is a basic light condition that is suitable for all photography, most notably for landscapes. By first mastering the basics of shooting in front light before moving on to shooting in backlight or oblique light, your understanding of light and its effects will be enhanced. The subject does not cast a shadow as the sun is shining on the subject at an oblique angle in front from the top.

Shooting in backlight

Aperture-Priority AE (1/320sec., f/2.8, -0.7EV)/ ISO 400/ WB: Daylight

A photo is shot in backlight when the light is shining in the direction opposite to which the camera is facing. This direction of light can be used to create silhouettes, but is also very effective when used to photograph transparent subjects to achieve an impressive photo finishing with a strong contrast as shown in the photo. However, it can be slightly difficult to determine the exposure to use. Hence, you can try using exposure compensation to adjust the brightness of the photo.

Shooting in oblique light

Aperture-Priority AE (1/320sec., f/4.5, -0.3EV)/ ISO 200/ WB: Daylight

Shown above is an example of a shot taken with oblique light shining from a small window. Due to the light shining in at an angle, the fur of the horse appears soft and even the skin feels solid in the photo. This light is suitable for capturing delicate expressions and has the characteristic of being able to richly reproduce the expression of a subject. It is also effective for use in portrait and landscape photography, allowing for expressions with a different feel and flavour to be captured as compared to photos shot in front light.

Ryosuke Takahashi


Born in Aichi in 1960, Takahashi started his freelance career in 1987 after working with an advertising photo studio and a publishing house. Photographing for major magazines, he has travelled to many parts of the world from his bases in Japan and China. Takahashi is a member of the Japan Professional Photographers Society (JPS).