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Into the Light Photography

February 22nd, 2024

I still remember reading the exposure guide pictograms on the Kodachrome 64 box when I was young.  It showed in wonderfully simple graphics how you should always shoot portraits with the sun over your left or right shoulder so that the bright sunlight shines directly onto your subject, and never with the sun in front of you shining into your camera lens…  This gave us many generations of family photos of people with screwed up faces as they squinted directly into the bright sun.

Into the Light for Drama

Regardless of what the old Kodak film box says, shooting into the light can produce some stunning results if you are careful with your exposure and practise a little.  

It’s not going to be right for every subject, but there are many situations when an image shot into the light can add enormous drama to a scene, especially if you can create strong shapes and take advantage of the shadows produced.

The image to the right was taken at the Mongar Tshechu, a cultural festival in the far East of Bhutan, shooting into the light, deliberately.

Look at the shadow stretching out in front of the dancer, see how it’s adding so much to the narrative and the dynamic nature of the image?

You could even say that the subject of this image is the dancers shadow rather than the dancer himself.

This shadow also gives a real 3D depth to the image, something that can be difficult to achieve with a 2D medium like photography.

Bhutan Festival dancer, shot into the light
Bhutan into the light shot, raw file

Planning & Visualising the results you want

The image to the left is the raw file (its actually a jpeg of the un processed Raw file), it’s also what the jpeg preview on the back of the camera looks like. Not very appealing, and certainly not what I was visualising the result to be.

But, this was actually spot on. I had planned the shot I wanted and I set the exposure carefully to get exactly this result, knowing that in post production I could achieve what I had visualised. What I visualised is the finished image above.

What I mean is, this wasn’t an accidental shot that just happened to work. I saw the shadows, positioned myself for the image, set the exposure carefully then waited for the dancer to come around to this spot.

Getting the exposure right…

But how do you ensure you get the detail you need to make the shot work in both the highlights and deep shadows? That will be the next post.

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