Harsh, Even and Back Light // examples

Photography is all about light. No matter what your style, light will affect everything about your photo. Where you place your subject, how you expose and then end result of your photograph are all heavily dependent of what type of light you have available and how you make use of it!

You will constantly hear photographers (especially natural light photographers who work mostly outside) talk about "looking for the best light". Before I was a photographer (and honestly even for a while after I started) I was MUCH more concerned with background than good light. But when you REALLY think about it, the subject is the point of the photo, not necessarily the background so you want to make sure that your subject is in the best light possible!

I was out on a session the other day and a friend of mine came along who is interested in learning more about how to use her camera etc...My devastatingly handsome stepson was with us as well and an opportunity presented itself out of the blue while we were waiting for my clients to arrive. I was explaining the concept of harsh light, even light and backlight and we happened to be standing in the exact perfect location for me to get a great example of all three situations!

harsh light even light back light

These three photos were taken in under a minute and I didn't even move, I just changed the placement of my subject (cheesy grinned Kyle.) Also important to note, these photos are all SOOC (straight out of camera). 

Harsh Light

In this first image, the sun was to my back. There were some trees behind me, which are causing that unfortunate shadow across his face and chest. The bright sun shinning on the background completely draws your eye away from the subjects face and even if he would have had an amazing expression on his face, there are too many distracting elements in the photo that it would get instantly lost. I do like the leading lines of the blue fence behind him, but again the light in this photo is so bad that they get lost as well.  


Even Light

You can instantly see a HUGE improvement in this next photo. I sat him down on the stairs that were just to the right of where we were in the first photo. The exposure on his face is totally even with no crazy shadows or hot spots. The exposure on the background is ALSO even (which is so important) Because of the light colored concrete, that also served as a natural reflector to bounce more light onto his face. I framed the photo with him in the middle and cropped in camera so that the background was completely evenly light so there were no distracting elements. 


Back Light

For this photo we were in almost the exact opposite position of the first photo. Now the sun was at his back and I was facing into the sun. Because the tree was there, there was enough diffused light so that the sun wasn't directly hitting my lens causing a ton of haze or flare. I popped a white reflector underneath him just to get a little more light onto his face. His face is evenly exposed and even though parts of the background are more blown out than others, the backlight offers a dreamy golden glow that is almost always visually pleasing. 

Looking at this photo now, I should have had him stand a little to the left (when looking at the photo) so the tree isn't coming out of his head!) Those are always good things to look for when framing your subject in your shot. It can be pretty distracting. Now that I've mentioned it, its probably bugging you too huh!? =) 


Whenever I'm studying specific information on how to do something or how to achieve a certain result, visuals are always helpful for me. I hope to provide many posts like this in the future! I hope you found it helpful to see some examples. As always, shoot me an email or reply in the comments if you have any questions! =)

These three images all shot on:

Canon 6d
50mm f/1.4

Settings were f/2.8 ISO 400 and shutter speeds were 1/3200, 1/640 and 1/1000 respectively.