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Utilizing light in Street Photography

When shooting street photos, we typically use available light. Whether it is during the day or photographing the bright neon lights at night of the urban jungle, we all have to use what is around us.

One of the most important aspects of photography is what your light source is. Are you using the sun, the reflection of a huge glass lined building or the small on camera flash you have in your bag. Either way, how you light your subject or photograph is almost as important if not more important that what the subject is.

Here is a secret only the best photographers know in the industry. Shhh, dont tell anyone you know this now but you can use it to your advantage; back lit subjects make just about everything more dynamic and interesting.

There I said it. One of the most important aspects of lighting nobody will tell you. Most photographers that use strobe lighting will almost always use direct light which can be harsh and create glare on skin. They point the soft box or umbrella at the subject and try to overpower the sun, in turn making the subject over lit and way to commercialized or overproduced.

Downtown Phoenix Statue

If you look closely, most major Hollywood movies use back lighting for dramatic scenes. Can you tell where the light source is coming from in this image of a statue? The light source is coming from behind to the left where you can see just a touch of the twisted metal illuminated. The light is literally wrapping around the subject and giving it that dark contrast. It also helps that the composition is balanced between the two buildings in the background.

In the photo down below, can you tell me where the light source is coming from? Can you see the light wrap around his face and illuminate his smile?

This lighting gives the viewer something to look at and study.

Silhouette of man in downtown phoenix

Another type of lighting most popular with street photographers is the sunset lighting. Warm and rich, with beautiful contrast. Its too bad it only lasts for no longer than 30 mins. Sometimes if you start shooting just before sunset and continue shooting you can really stretch the golden hour to about an hour. Take a look at this photo below. It involves shape, texture, the rule of thirds and perspective. The very tip of the triangle is on the upper left cross point of the rule of third grid. When you see this image, what is the first thing you see? Where does it take your eye to next?

Sunset picture of building tower in downtown Phoenix

To sum things up, to be a good photographer you need to know how to utilize light to your advantage. To be a great photographer, you need to be a master of light, and bend it to do anything you want the viewer to see.

-Mark Sachet

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