Posts Tagged ‘product lighting’

Showing Texture and Detail in Your Photographs

July 9, 2013

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Question: Why am I lighting this photograph from the side?

Answer: To make sure the subject’s texture and detail (a painting in this case) show in the photograph!

The key to showing texture and detail in a photograph is directional lighting.

Flat Versus Directional Lighting

Let’s keep this simple; flat lighting is light that comes from the camera position, think camera mounted flash. Directional lighting is everything else.

  • Flat light coming from (or directly behind) the camera’s position eliminates shadows. No shadows mean no texture and lack of detail in the photograph.
  • Directional light is light originating from the left or right of the camera position. It shows texture and detail by creating highlights and shadows. This presence of highlight and shadow allows us to see depth and shape, and thus the texture and detail present in the subject of our photograph.

Take a look at the three sets of photographs below (click to enlarge). These pictures are close-ups of acrylic paintings done on canvas.

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As you can see from the Side Lit images, the artist creates a lot of texture and detail in her paintings. However, that texture and detail all but disappear when the light source is moved to the Front Lit camera position.

Above, I have included a photograph of the lighting setup. I positioned the light source at 90-degrees to camera right to show maximum texture in the image. To show less texture I could move the light towards the camera to a 30-45 degree position. To eliminate texture completely I would place the light directly behind the camera creating a flat light similar to a hot shoe mounted flash.

Directional light is necessary whenever it is important to show your subject’s texture, detail, and shape in your photograph.

  • This is why landscape and architectural photographers won’t photograph with the sun behind them.
  • It’s why portrait photographers seldom employ a key light at the camera position.
  • And why product photographers light products with directional light sources.

Give directional light a try. Position your subject so the main light source is coming from the side, i.e., from 30-90 degrees camera right or left. Watch how the play of shadow and highlight allow your camera to capture the texture, detail, and shape of your subject.

Take the same photograph with the light source at or directly behind the camera position. Notice how the flat light evenly illuminates the subject. The resulting lack of shadows eliminates texture, detail, and shape in the photograph.

Additional Information:

Creating Shape and Depth with Directional Light

Off-camera Flash For Portraiture

Until next time…

All the best,

Randy