photography 101 :: light

I am really having fun with my new book. I do wish I were moving a bit faster, but considering all I have to learn and all the other balls I have to keep in the air, I’m happy to be making any progress.

As I’ve mentioned on my previous Photography 101 posts, I’m reading a fantastic photography book. And the author encourages his readers to get out and complete what he calls ‘creative exercises’.

And this week’s creative exercise is on light.

A small word. A huge concept.

The author compares light to paint – what we choose to do with it creates textures, lines and tones. Light from behind creates rim light, but when the light comes through the object, the effect is completely different. Light from the side point to texture. And light from the front simply flattens that texture.

Light changes the mood and can add emotional impact. It reveals or conceals to provide or obscure information.

The author has the reader ask the following questions when considering light in a frame:

“What is the light doing in this frame?”

“Is it doing what I need to create the photo I want?”

I wanted to see for myself. So I got out my camera and took some pictures with light – and it’s direction and the resulting impact – in mind. And I’m going to take you along with me.

So let’s get crackin’!

For this first series, I grabbed a gardenia flower off the bush outside my back door at about 7:30 this morning. The sun was behind some clouds and also blocked by my house. It wasn’t the best location… but it was 7:30. My brain wasn’t firing at 100%.

Because of the shade from my house and the cloud cover, and it was early morning, the difference in lighting is very subtle. And, in general, shooting in the first few hours and the last few hours of sunlight offers just that – more subtle shadows and more even light. Most photographers prefer this for portraiture because it makes it easier to move and change direction, it makes skin tones softer and more even, and so, is much easier to work with than the more harsh light of mid-day.

– light from the front (light at my back) –

– light from the side –

– light from the back –

For this next series, I did the exact same thing. I honestly hadn’t intended to use Seamus as my subject, but he was sitting there so sweetly, almost begging me to take his picture. I think he might have been envious of all the play that flower of getting.

And I thought it would be interesting to compare the flower pictures with the dog pictures.

In general, I prefer things lit from the front. I just do. But I am beginning to see why, in some cases, being lit from the side, and especially the back, can be more interesting. And more fun.

– light from the front (light at my back) –

– light from the side –

– light from the back –

Not sure which of these I prefer between the one lit from the front and the one lit from the side. Or the one lit from the back.

Clearly, I’m not sure. None of them are very exciting (although he is so cute and is being such a good boy) but the shift in lighting is so very subtle.

For this next series, I waited until the sun came out, about 10 or so, and the shadows were getting pretty harsh. But I wanted to shoot, regardless of my preference for the light.

I wanted to see what the light was doing to, hopefully, learn to use light to create more of a story with my pictures.

– light from the side in high shade –

These two (above and below) were both taken from the side. Same time of day.

But they are so different.

– light from the side in direct sunlight –

I really prefer the high shade, because I’m not a big fan of shadows. But I need to learn about shooting in direct sunlight because sometimes life is happening in direct sun and not in high shade.


These are both taken with the light from the back – one in high shade and the other in direct sunlight.

– light from the back in high shade –

The difference is most pronounced because the rim light is so much more obvious in the second image.

And I really love it, especially because of the pony’s flaxen mane.

– light from the back in direct sunlight –

I prefer the composition of the first image, but the lighting of the second.

Go figure.

And these last few, I just simply wanted to share.

I don’t love this next picture. But I do love the way the light from behind captured all the dirt flying.

And you can almost feel the motion in the picture because of it. And you can definitely feel the dirt. Eck.

– light from the back in direct sunlight –

And these, well… what’s not to love. This pony is a crack-up.

And his funny face is made more dramatic because of the shadows.

– light from the side in direct sunlight –

– light from the side in direct sunlight –

I think they’re my favorites of the day.

Because they taught me that sometimes, your not-so-favorite light can result in some pictures that just might be your favorite.

So I will continue to practice, practice, practice.

But now, I will nap.

What do y’all think? Do you have a favorite? And if so, why?

Could you tell a difference in the subtle lighting of the first two series? Or not really?

And if anyone would like to share their own tips on lighting, feel free.



  1. I think the pony’s funny faces are my favorite!!! :)

    Just because they made me laugh.

    Wow Stefanie, I am impressed……lots of time and effort had to have gone into taking these photos.

    So yes, go take a nap. :)

  2. wonderful shots!!! :)

  3. Stefanie, you are doing absolutely incredible with your photography. Can I be honest and say it’s making me even more nervous to take that online class. :) But seriously, you are obviously learning a ton…I am so enjoying your photography posts.

  4. The one of Seamus (light from back) is my favorite. I love the look on this face! It’s like “really? Another picture?!” Haha. I think him and Ruby (our boxer) would make a great team :)
    I also really like the one of your horse (light from the side in direct sunlight). I am also not a big fan of shadows, but I like the way the hair is casting shadows in this photo. Thanks for sharing! I love all the new ideas and concepts your pointing out about photography.

    • NiHaoYall says:

      I agree… I”d love to see your boxer and my boxer playing together :) His only playmate is a reaaaaaly old Jack Russell, he needs a dog he can play hard with :)

  5. Looks like someone forgot to floss! :) Great pix. i’m so jealous. I wish I had the patience to sit down and learn how to use my Cannon. Maybe one day…

  6. I love them all but the last is my favorite because the pony seems to be laughing:) i also love the backlit on where you can see all the hairs around his chin/mouth. You are doing so well with your photography!!!

  7. Our Faith Walk says:


    I’m literally LOL right now…at myself…I feel like it’s a high school feild trip and my friends and I are looking at abstract art. Suddenly, the art teacher comes by and says, “So Luana, what do “you” see?” Inside, my brain cells explode as I try to understand what the red paint splotch surrounded by the yellow and black paint sploches can possibly mean? Then a stroke of genius hits me, “Ladybugs fighting with bees?,” I ask shyly. To which my teacher implodes from laughter, shakes his head, and he walks away…(laughing again now)…

    Seriously though, I can definitely tell the differences with the horse pictures. My fav is the dirt flying in the air when he’s rolling around. Lots of energy.

    All I know for sure is that you have a talent and I’m grateful when you share it with us.


    • NiHaoYall says:

      You are cracking me up, Luana. That’s how I feel when I’m reading this book of mine… exactly! But I’m trying to hang in there… we’ll see if I can actually improve my photography through all of this 😉

  8. Oh my heavens- that little pony is hysterical! I took some photos of our horsies last night, and honestly, what’s not to love about horses? They are so beautiful and mysterious to me. Truly one of God’s most amazing creations. And I happen to think I like back-lighting best. … And I think I might just order that book. Sounds like you’re learning lots of great stuff!! xoxo!!

  9. I wish I had a tip for you but I just had to say, those horse teeth made me laugh out loud at 11:30 at night! Thanks :)

  10. Deborah says:

    I like the light from the front of the flower, and, the light from the side of Seamus, and, above all, I’m in LOVE with horses, so, I’m LOVING those last three shots of the laughing horse and the rolling in the dust. What wonderful subjects you have (besides your kiddos, that is). You’re doing a great job and thanks so much for sharing…I’m just learning about photography and trying to soak up all I can, so, keep it coming! Just wondering what settings you were using on these shots you just posted of the light. Were you on automatic? I’m thinking NOT.

    • NiHaoYall says:

      Nope, not on automatic. I think that’s rule #1 for anyone who wants to improve their photography. I took my first course years ago and she made us all switch over completely to manual… ACK! I was a mess! BUT I figured it out and haven’t looked back since :) So if I can do it, ANYONE can do it!
      My settings for Seamus were ISO 500, f/2.8 and 1/500 ss. They were all over the place for the pony pics, but the laughing pony pic was ISO 200, f/2.8 and 1/640 ss.
      Great questions, Deborah!

  11. I like the first of the pony with the light from the side in shade. It really brings out the texture of muscle and structure of his face and who could resist his big horsy laugh in the following photos! Well done!

  12. I have no lighting tips as I’m a photography dummy. But that pony of yours….hilarious! Thanks for the chuckle tonight!!

  13. LOL! Is it wrong that I’m jealous you can get your pony and dog to sit my still than my preschooler? Yah…that doesn’t happen!

    Your photos are gorgeous! My fave would be the pony rolling in the dirt as it captured each fleck in the sunshine…and he looked like it was really having fun!!

    You’re inspiring me to pull out my DLSR this weekend and give it a whirl. I’ve become lax and go with the point n shoot the majority of the time.

    Beautiful pics!!

  14. i love the dirt flying pony picture because i love photos that show real life stuff or that could have a good story behind them or that make you feel like you have entered the photo. i also love the laughing pony pics because it makes me think you told him a good joke!

    doin’ a great job there!

  15. Allison says:

    Love these. Haha. Seamus—what a diva. I can almost hear him channeling Tyra Banks on Next Top Model. But the REAL diva has to be the pony….I think the pony was DONE with the photo shoot, don’t you? :)

  16. I could not tell a big difference in the first two series.

    With the third set of pony pictures you said “I prefer the composition of the first image, but the lighting of the second. ”
    Me too :)

    In the pony rolling one I like it because you can see the light coming through the dirt as well as the pat h the dirt is taking.

  17. I grew up with a pony named Ginger and she had the best personality. My mom & dad have a Donkey now who thinks he is a dog. I think after seeing your hilarious pictures of your pony, I need to go over there and photograph Pancho heehawing. It’s the best. Love your pictures!

  18. When I am out and want to get a shot without harsh shadows – especially with very bright light from the side – I use a shed of white paper I keep in my bag. Hold it up on the shadowed side and the reflection will soften the shadow a bit. You have enough littles, middles and bigs to be your assistant. I learned this trick from a course I took with Ben Pearson and Jimmy Abegg many moons ago.

    And I am having to dig into my fuddled brain to remember all my f-stop, iso, aperture rules and combos. I didn’t go point and shoot until I had a digital camera.

  19. Natalie says:

    These photos are great. Love the ones of your horse! :)

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