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Food For digital Thought: The Clock

light coming from 3:00 O'clock.

light coming from 3:00 O’clock.

One of the most important areas I cover in my online class with the PPSOP, and in my “Stretching Your Frame of Mind” workshop I conduct around the planet is knowing where the light is coming from before raising the camera up to your eyes.

I give my fellow photographers a clock to install in the back of their mind. To me, light is EVERYTHING!!!!. If you look up the definition of Photography, you’ll see that it means “painting with light”. Unless you’re street shooting where ‘the moment’ is critical, and more important than the direction of the light, knowing where to put your subject is the key in taking your photos what I refer to as “up a notch”.

 Ok, imagine a clock in your viewfinder, but if it’s easier, imagine the clock on the ground with your subject standing in the center…imagine your camera and a subject set up just like it is in this drawing. Now, imagine the sun (or light source) coming from behind the 11,12, and 1. This is ‘back light’. It’s probably the way I light almost all the time…why?

Because back light makes everything glow: water, grass, hair, or anything translucent. It adds so much energy and can be effective even if your subject is a touch on the boring side.

Now, imagine the light source behind the ’10’ and the ‘2’. This is what is called “the Law of the Light”…light from the “Angle of Reflection”. When the sun casts light on a subject it comes at a specific angle, and that angle is called the “Angle of Incidence”. It’s the light falling on the subject.

When that same light bounces (reflects) off the subject and hits the lens, it also bounces off at an angle to the camera. When those to angles are the same, it’s called the “Law of the Light”…also known as “The Angle of Reflection”.

Now, imagine the sun at either ‘3’ or ‘9’. This is side light. If I can’t backlight or put my subject in the Angle of reflection, this is the light I go for. When the sun is at ‘4’ or ‘8’ it’s ok, still somewhat side lit, but bordering on front light…to me, this is the worst way to light…5,6,and 7 is front light and I avoid it like the plague…why? Because there aren’t any shadows or shading.

Form is an important ‘element of visual design’. Form refers to the three-dimensional quality of an object. When light hits an object from the side, part of the object is in shadow. The light and dark areas provide contrast that can suggest volume. Without shadows, the subject will be recorded without Form…appearing flat. Without shading/shadows Form exists in just two dimensions, height and width.

This is what happens when you front light. now, I’m not saying that you can’t take pictures that are front lit…I’m saying that those times for me are rare, and the sun should be low on the horizon.

So as I said, THE VERY FIRST THING I EVER DO when I get to a location…before I ever raise my camera up to my eyes…is to determine where the light source is coming from. Then I position myself to get the right/best light.

Visit my website at: www.joebaraban.com, and check out my 2105 workshop schedule at the top of this blog. come shoot with me sometime. I still have a few spots in my next “Springtime” workshop to be in Lisbon, Portugal next May 21st.  July 26th will be my 27th year at the Maine Media workshop…the granddaddy of them all. I’ve always picked this week as it’s the week of the Lobster Festival down the road in Rockland. It offers a completely different set of photo ops: color, motion, people, energy, light, and design. A great way to break up photos of the beautiful coastline, fishing villages and lighthouses that Maine is known for.

Don’t forget to send me a photo and question to: AskJoeB@gmail.com.


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    { 4 comments… add one }
    • Gary Thursby April 20, 2015, 10:23 pm

      Great article Joe! So the 10 and 2 position is about and hour or tw0 before/after sunrise or sunset? 9 and 3 would be right at sunrise or sunset. At what position would horrible midday light be at on your clock? Also I try and use sidelight when I compose my landscape shots now. The frustrating thing is I try and really scout and concentrate on good compositions during the midday and wait for the sunset/sunrise. The problem is the darn sun doesn’t set directly to the right or left of my carefully composed scene. So I reposition the camera to get the strong sidelight but then lose the scene I worked so hard figuring out. Unless your in a pristine wilderness where there are no distracting items, this is very irritating. Once you to get the good side light you now get the distracting elements.

      • Joe April 21, 2015, 4:17 pm


        The clock doesn’t really have anything to do with sunrise or sunset, only if you’re trying to back, front, or side light your subject or center of interest.. This can be done just about anytime as long as the sun isn’t so high that the light is harsh and the shadows are short.

        The ten and two position represents “The law of the light”, or as some people call it…”The angle of reflection”.

        The sun does not have to set directly to the right or left in a landscape. It could be anywhere on the clock…and in some instances even when front lighting. The important part (usually) is how low the sun is on the horizon.


    • Joe April 30, 2015, 8:33 am

      Thanks for the look.


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