Value Contrast and the Quality of Light

There are two basic types of light: direct and diffused. Direct light is what we see outdoors on a sunny day or emanating from a strong spotlight. Diffused light is what we see outdoors on a foggy or overcast day, or indoors where there are multiple light sources or where the light is bounced off another surface, like the ceiling.

Direct light gives the best definition of texture and three-dimensional form, whereas diffused light offers the least definition. (Strong direct frontal or back lighting, however, can cause silhouetting-flattening of form.) The area of transition from light to shadow on an object in direct light is short; in diffused light the transition from light to shadow is long.

Direct light yields distinct, sharply focused, dark cast shadows; the darkest cast shadows result from the strongest light. Diffused light yields cast shadows that are indistinct, have their edges out of focus, and are lighter than those caused by direct light. If the light is sufficiently diffused, the only cast shadow is a proximity shadow, one that results when two objects touch.

A picture whose values are all in the middle to dark range looks as if it is in a shadow. If the values are all in the middle to light range, the picture seems to be covered with a haze or mist. Using a wide range of values in a picture, including extremes of light and dark, creates a feeling of strong light and clear air.

The two basic types of light are direct and diffused light. Direct light, such as sunlight, causes strong contrasts and well-defined cast shadows.

Diffused light, as on a rainy day, causes low contrasts and vaguely defined cast shadows.

In direct light, the texture of an object appears more pronounced and is confined to a relatively small area. In diffused light, texture is subtler and can be seen over a wider area.

In extremely diffused light, the only cast shadows are proximity shadows-the shadows we see when two objects touch.

Light is everywhere, even in cast shadows, where, although greatly diminished, it still reveals form. Objects located within cast shadows are in diffused light.

Some points to remember:

  • Objects located within cast shadows are always lit with diffused light.
  • The effects of direct light are:
    - high contrast
    - well-defined transitions between light and shadow areas
    - pronounced textures
    -clearly defined cast shadows
  • The effects of diffused light are:
    - low contrast
    - subtle transitions between light and shadow areas -muted textures
    - vaguely defined cast shadows
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