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If you ask me which single lighting technique you can learn to become an overall better photographer? I would definitely recommend “lighting for texture”.
Absolutely everything around us has texture, ranging from very smooth to extremely coarse surfaces. Objects can range from shiny metal to coarse stone. People’s faces can also range from silky smooth skin to wrinkled aged skin. Whether you are photographing still life, portraits, architecture or landscapes, this photography lighting technique to show texture will help bring your images to life.
The very first time I started paying attention to lighting for texture was during my visit to Egypt. What quickly came to my attention was that when photographing decorations on ancient temples, the hieroglyphs became almost unnoticeable in the final images. It took me a while to realize that the reason why my images were turning out flat was because the light was falling with equal intensity on the hieroglyphs relief and in the carved spaces in between making the images to appear uninteresting. When I came across the temple of Esna, (located about 1.5 hours south of Luxor) I was very determined to get some good detail shots and later display the prints at my newly built tea bar back home. So my solution was simply to wait until the sun came around to project the light at the desired angle: skimming over the reliefs and producing deep shadows to emphasize the texture.
Columns. Luxor, Egypt 17-40mm lens, iso 100, f6.3, 1/40photo credit: Sasha Gitin
Look at your subject to analyze what kind of texture it has.
Advice when photographing people:
Most people do not want to see the texture of their faces (wrinkles) so the opposite technique should be used, the light should be more frontal and fill in the shadows. However if emphasizing on wrinkles, let say to highlight the fact that old age has its beauty, the same light skimming technique described above can be used.
Assignment for you: Find a subject with interesting texture and photograph it to emphasize on texture. Use “Share your shot” feature in comment box to post it here.