Photography is all about light. Well, maybe not ALL, since you still need a subject (unless your subject is Light itself), but certainly it is of Major Importance. Even the word “Photography” means “Drawing with light.”
One of the first questions I ask myself when considering photographing a new flower, for example, is whether it is sufficiently translucent so that shooting INTO the light is the way to “glow” or better to have the light behind me. Basically it’s a matter of shooting by TRANSMITTED light verses REFLECTED light.
Some photographers seem to get caught up in that “Golden Hour” nonsense, as if there’s no other appropriate time for shooting. In a word, that just ain’t so (imho). With certain subjects, even after the sun has gone down, you can get more than decent results: I’ve been photographing this same “Shenandoah River Sycamore” for years in different seasons and varied conditions. Here are presented two that are quite different from one another and one was done after the sun had set.
Many more flower examples could have been provided (see “Flower Power”), but these two are typical of what can be achieved by back-lighting.
The two “Foxtail” images are entirely different yet both valid with one being illuminated from the front while the other was backlit. (All these subjects with black backgrounds were photographed against black velveteen).
Consider the iconic “Mesa Arch at Sunrise” (see “Going Beyond Postcards”) and now imagine the same scene on an overcast day. With no golden glow, it would be completely different.
Backlit “Birch Bark” was something of a surprise: I never expected to see such color, but with strong sun behind it (taped to a piece of glass to keep it flat), this was the result.
Some subjects seem to have an affinity for light: “Persian Shield” is a good example of this.
Sorry I couldn’t locate the original piece of “Iris Agate” (done 30 years ago), but the non-backlit one does provide some notion of the difference.
In the case of the shell, “Hydatina vesicaria” (see “Shells are Swell”), the front lighted one is okay, but because of the shell’s thinness, the backlit version takes it to another level and is much more dynamic.
Perhaps the most dramatic example (after “Birch Bark”) is the “Forest Scene.” An alternative title would be: “The Early Photographer Gets The Shot.” Here, an ordinary, nothing special landscape is completely transformed into something magical. Light makes it right.
The “Spider Web” was done at the same time as the “Forest” shot and lasted but a moment; a very transient event. And while, by definition, it IS a “Golden Hour” Image, it also illustrates how back-lighting can make the subject come alive.
While these brief ramblings have solely been about front and back-lighting, let’s not forget there are many other ways to go including, but not limited to, side-lighting, diffused lighting, and of course, artificial lighting.
Finally as we progress in developing an awareness of light, sometimes the Right Light is that which we create ourselves.
Just remember: “All is fair in Love and Photography.”