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Three Simple Ways to Use Light in Photographs for Best Results

written by: Cherise Kelley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 9/19/2008

Taking advantage of the type of light available will go a long way toward making you an awesome digital photographer. Here are three hints that should help you get there.

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    Hint 1: Use sunlight if possible.

    You can't always arrange things and people where you want them, just to take a picture. If you can move them outside, it helps greatly. Man-made light will never approach the amount put out by the sun. Sunlight illuminates everything in the shot, bringing out every nook and cranny and revealing every detail. Colors are more vivid and true in the sun. Backgrounds are more visible and appealing. Of course, if you want to hide things in your photo, you can move indoors and use flash. You can choose to do so for dramatic effects, too.

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    Hint 2: You don't have to use direct sunlight.

    Direct sunlight is perfect for photographing people and most objects and scenes at sunrise and at sunset. At those times, it comes at the angle we usually need it. At noon though, sunlight creates distracting shadows. In order to get a great photo of your friends and loved ones closer to noon, move both yourself and them into the shade. Even in shade, there is ample sunlight at noon to illuminate everything in your shot. If both you and your subject are in the shade, then your photo won't have those ugly shadows on eyes and under noses.

    If you are taking a photo of a building or some other large immovable object, don't take it at noon. Take the photo in the morning or in the late afternoon, whichever puts the sun onto the subject of your photo. Midday is a great time for taking photos of narrow streets, canyons, and courtyards. Noon can also be the best time to photograph the ground and people or things on the ground.

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    Hint 3: Usually, you want the light to come from behind you.

    Light that comes from behind you shines onto the subject of your photo. If you and your subject are in the shade, any light source that is in front of you will cause your camera to under expose your subject. If the light source is behind you, then it will help illuminate your subject. No matter what your light source is, try to put it behind you. So, if you are taking pictures of someone opening their birthday gifts indoors, take notice of where the lamps and ceiling fixtures are in the room. Move around the room so that the source of light is behind you. Take care though that you are not blocking the light from shining on the birthday person. Even if it is dark enough for your flash to go off, the light behind you will help.

    Sometimes, you might want to experiment with dramatic effects that can be made with back lighting, but this is the exception.