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Photography Lighting Quick Tip #3 – Texture

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Landscape photographed with side lighting

If you want to emphasize texture, use side lighting. In fact, you can use light from above or below as well. If you want to reduce texture, use front lighting.

If your subject would look best smooth and even, use front lighting. Portraits are most often done with front lighting. Have you ever seen a behind-the-scene shot of a fashion shoot? If so, you have probably noticed the huge beauty dish, bank light, or massive soft box pointed right at the model. This kind of light reduces wrinkles and flaws. In contrast, landscape photographers wait for the “golden hour” just before and after sunset. The sun is low in the sky, providing side lighting that casts long shadows and brings out texture in rocks, sand, and buildings.

Lily photographed with front lighting

Lily photographed with side lighting

Look at the landscape photo. This is an area called The Sinks in Orange County California. It is an open space not far from the ocean that has numerous hills, valleys, and slides. I have seen this slide in the middle of the day when the light was straight on it. Nothing very interesting because there was no definition on the rocks and trees. In addition, the colors were washed out. Going back at the end of the day was a different story. The sun was low in the sky creating a beautiful side lighting. Look at how much texture there is in the dirt, rocks, and trees. Texture appears when one side of an object is lit and the other is not. The shadows are long and deep. You can tell which way the sun was throwing light by comparing the right and left sides of crevasses. The left sides are in the light, while the right sides are in shadow.

Let’s compare the two lily photos. The top one was photographed with front light. There’s only a small amount of texture in the petals. The light is pretty flat. Pay attention to the stem. See how even the light is? Take a careful look at the second lily photo. This one uses side light to enhance the petal texture. The texture is more prominent in here. It pops more because the light hits the high parts of the petal, and doesn’t reach the low parts. The interior of the lily is darker because the side light does not get inside it. Compare the stem to the front lit lily. See how it has a defined highlight on the left side where the light hits? As you can see side lighting creates drama, while front lighting creates softness. Think about how your subject will look best the next time you choose the angle of light.


About Gina Genis

Hi Friends, I'm a photographer and artist who lives in Washington DC. I have two blogs. The Gina Genis Blog is about art and photography. My new blog, DC Discoveries is dedicated to showing you everything from fashion to art, food to entertainment in all sections of the District. I hope you will take the journey with me. I exhibit my work in museums and galleries across the U.S. I'm included in the permanent collections of the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, the Otto G. Richter Library Special Collections Division of the University of Miami, Hard Rock Casino, Orange County Transit District, IBM, and the Sarah and Adam Markman Collection among others. My series "Window Peeping" was included in OsCene 2010 at the Laguna Art Museum, Truman State University, Fellows of Contemporary Art, Biola University, and solo shows at Gallery 825 and Cypress College. The "June Gloom" series was exhibited in a solo show at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The "Kala" series has been exhibited at MPLS Photo Center, Cypress College, and Gallery 825. "Economy Portraits" was created as an Artist In Residence project at the Huntington Beach Art Center, and was awarded "Best Art Show of 2011" by the OC Weekly. I curated Wide Angle View, an exhibit of 16 international, award-winning photo and multi-media journalists at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art to much critical acclaim. Recent reviews of my work have appeared in the Huffington Post, Art Scene, OC Weekly, Orange County Register, New University, Riviera Magazine, Coast Magazine, Huntington Beach Independent, and appeared on CNN, NBC, ABC, and more. I lead the Gina Genis Photo Workshops where I show beginning and intermediate photographers how to jump to the next level with their work. I also teach online photography courses through The Compelling Image.

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