When most people start out in photography, someone usually tells them they should have the sun at their back. Generally speaking, I would call that bad advice. When the sun is behind you, hitting the front of your subject directly, it is called “frontlight”. Frontlight can be intense and unforgiving causing an overall dull look and lack of texture and depth. And if you take photos of people that way, they will squint into the sun making them look old, wrinkly and white and they will never let you take their photo again.
So why is it in my list of types of natural light that can add drama to your photography? I asked myself that too and even considered taking it out. But frontlight does have it’s place.
Sunset is a great time to use frontlight, especially on a city scene when the light will reflect off of the buildings emphasizing detail against a colourful background.
Frontlight can create deep shadows with hard edges. This is not always what you want in a photograph, but if the shadows are what has drawn you to the scene in the first place, frontlight may be the best light.
Frontlight can also work well when the scene has a variety of strong colours. Both the photo of chinese lanterns and the photo of Mount Shasta were taken near noon in harsh light.
Exposure can be tricky when dealing with the intensity of frontlight. Be sure to check your histogram for blown out highlights and use exposure compensation to decrease exposure time.
Those are the only good things I have to say about frontlight. Next up in the series: reflected light.
See my earlier post for more types of natural light that will drama to your photography.