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Photo Tips > Light Rules >

2 - Rule #1: Size of the

Light & Contrast

Here's the first light rule again.

Smaller light sources produce light with more contrast.

For example, the sun is a small light source, relative to the Earth.

Therefore, sunlight produces dark shadows with sharp edges.

That's high contrast lighting.

Here's the reverse of the rule.

Larger light sources produce light with less contrast.

On an overcast day, the light source is the entire sky.

Therefore, shadows are bright with soft edges, if there even are shadows.

That's low contrast lighting.


Below, I used a light with a 12 inch reflector to photograph a flashlight.

The flashlight is not in the photographs below, just it's shadow.


When the light was close to the flashlight, the shadow was bright with soft edges—low contrast lighting.

That's because the light was, roughly, the same size as the flashlight.

As this writer moved the light further away, it became smaller relative to the flashlight.

So, the shadow became progressively darker, with increasingly sharper edges—high contrast lighting.


Light One Foot from Flashlight


Light Two Feet from Flashlight


Light Three Feet from Flashlight

Putting the Rule to Use

One way to reduce contrast in a photograph is to make the light source larger relative to the subject.

You can:

1) Photograph on an overcast day.

2) Bounce your studio light off of an umbrella.

3) Move the light closer.


True or false?

The light from the pop-up flash on your camera has less contrast when you're photographing a flower, than when photographing a group of people.