Where is your light coming from?

This one tip will make a humongous difference in your photography.  

Ask yourself: from what direction is your light hitting your subject? Front, side, or back?

These two shots use front light, meaning that the light is behind ME when I shoot, hitting my subject straight on from the subject’s front. If my yarn had a face, the light would be shining directly into its eyes.

I’m using light from a frosted window, so it is soft and diffused. The shadows aren’t harsh, but really, you can’t see many shadows in these shots because the light hits from the front. You can see the colors very well, though.

While these images convey useful information, they don’t have a lot of drama or excitement. They’re just yarn on a fake photo backdrop. (Yup.) These are unedited, and while the final version after I’ve taken them through Lightroom is a whole lot richer…

…compare them to side light:

For these photos, I turned my photo setup around so that the light from my frosted window (still soft, diffused light) hit my yarn from the side. I’m facing my subject with the light coming in from my left side, so the light hits the left side of the twists in the skein and shadows fall on the right side.

It’s the shadows that transform a two-dimensional photo into feeling like it has three dimensions.

Let’s put front and side light side-by-side:

Front light makes for a “flatter” image, while side light, with all the shadows, makes for more dimension. The front lit photo is well-lit throughout, and therefore gives a lot of information. But interestingly, I find that my eye settles more easily in the sidelit image—without as much information to sort through, I can savor the bits the light falls on more thoroughly, imagining its texture and plumpness.

And then there’s back light.

With backlight, the light source is behind the subject. (It gets in the photographer’s eyes this time.) I find backlight to be exciting, but it can be tricky to get right if you don’t want the light source actually in your image. I had to make some composition adjustments with these to keep the glare and the window itself from overwhelming the yarn. In backlit photos, the shadows are even more prominent than in sidelit photos while the light just kisses the subject, hinting at its color and texture. It’s super dramatic—one of my favorite lighting techniques.

In photography (as with anything that matters in life,) pay attention to your intention. Light direction matters, but which direction you take depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. Are you trying to give a buyer visual information about a product or are you trying to establish a mood? Is your goal to create an eye-catching shot for your Instagram feed?

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: ...So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.
— Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

There's a lot more to using light (for example, knowing when to use hard and soft light,) but understanding how light direction impacts the way a photo reads makes a huge difference, as you can see.  Try it out, and I'd love to see the results.  You can use the hashtag #yarnscaping on Instagram and I'll come by and have a look!

Yarn featured: