There are many ways to achieve a pleasing composition. When we think about what our goal is when composing a photograph, we often think about highlighting our subject. Isolating the subject or directing the viewer to it. We use the environment around our subject, varying angles, rule of thirds, etc. to make our subject stand out. We also use light. I think light is often overlooked as a tool in composing a photograph, but it is most definitely a useful one.
We’ve spent the last month watching and photographing light and shadow and noticing out they work together to create interest and mood in our images. Direct light and dark shadows can create obvious shapes and lines that direct the viewer to our subject, or bring balance to an image. Light (and shadow) can be used in place of physical objects as leading lines. Dappled lighting, when placed properly within your frame, can add balance as well as interest.
On the contrary, subtle, soft light can work with the shadows to isolate our subject from a busy background. The space where light and shadow meets is soft and gentle, the light brings out every detail, and all eyes are on the subject. A combination of subject placement within the frame and use of light, then, might be what makes that particular photo shine.
Light is the reason we can make photographs, so it would only make sense that we would use it compositionally, yes? If you haven’t considered this fact, take some time to look through past images and look for ways in which light strengthens your composition. I guarantee you’ll have several a-ha moments. As with any of our themes, becoming more aware of how a particular type of light, or the way the light is used in your photo, is going to strengthen your overall ability to take captivating photographs. The idea is always, always, always to become more observant and aware of the way we do things and more importantly, why we do them.
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This was taken in a car port, where there was a space between the wall and the tin roof, allowing light to leak through in the later part of the day. Both the light and my subject are placed in that lower third of the frame, and my subject in that lower right corner, which offers a strong and pleasing composition. The light isolates my subject and acts as a leading line.
The light (and reflection because of the light) here is creating a triangle – from the subject, up to the peak of the light on the window, down to my subjects reflection, and back over to my subject. Finding and using triangles found within the scene before us, is an excellent compositional tool. We often think of using physical objects to create this, but sometimes all we need is light.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as waiting for your subject to fall into a spot of dappled light. Using light to create interest, isolate/highlight your subject, and draw the viewer throughout the frame and to your subject.
In this image, soft window light was used to isolate the subject against a background lost to the shadows. The look in his eyes, the way he holds his blanket, the texture in the blanket – these things all stand out because of the way the light was used.
This image is the one that sparked the “bacon light” shenanigans – a favorite! ha! These rays of “bacon light”, otherwise known as crepuscular rays, are leading the viewer directly to the subject. Opting for a darker, silhouette-like exposure, dramatizes and simplifies the scene, and allows for those rays of light to really stand out. The window fills a good portion of the frame, with the subject looking in that general direction, bringing balance to the image.
Speaking of silhouettes, have you considered that creating a silhouette is using light to compose your photo? This high contrast, bold look is a great example of using light to create strong composition. The colorful sky against darkened subjects is always pleasing to look at.