Shadows, Catchlights can give-away a lot about the lighting setup of an image.

However I find shadows hard to read, so I'm looking for advice. Below each image is my attempt at deciphering the lighting- I'd like to know if you disagree.

Image by Jose Vieira Jose Vieira My guess:

  • Single-strobe, diffused. Placed 45 Degrees to the right of the head; I was tempted to say subject-right. However when I noticed the left-side of the leaf and the catch-light, I changed my mind.

  • Between the camera and subject vs behind the subject; the former, as the the exposure on the chin would be much lower were it behind the subject.

  • Update:The structural definition of the leaf had me confused on hard vs soft light. However zooming into reveals sharpening artifacts.

Image 2 by Jannico Kelk Jannico Kelk My guess:

  • Single strobe. Subject-left; totally unexposed jaw.

  • Hard-lighting; snoot, box/grid. To only light the tops of the snake, I suspect the light was pointed upwards.


1 Answer 1


"... I find shadows hard to read, so I'm looking for advice.".

Depending upon which software you have handy you'll need to use different values than I used, also it helps to see the result as you adjust the sliders and pick exactly where you want to outline (so you can guess the lighting direction).

You want to darken the image so it's obvious which direction the light came from and determine if there is some ambient light in addition to the flash (most powerful light).

Using Pixlr I reduced the "Brightness", "Shadows" and "Highlights" to -100, and the "Lightness" to -4. From this particular point I can wiggle the slider to be a bit brighter or a bit darker, if this image were any darker there wouldn't be much left.

Does this suggest: Your guess is correct, but for your 'update' there is a bit of ambient light from the front (normal room light). A fast shutter was used to freeze the subject, darkening the ambient light of the room , making the flash (or significantly brighter 'always-on' light) the main source of light.

Darkened image

  • \$\begingroup\$ Excellent answer- focused on the crux of the question. Great demonstration too! A small note; this was shot in the wild, and since it's with a strobe, it could be done in the day or the night. I feel I don't agree with you about seeing ambient light, as the shadows are too predictable for ambient light. \$\endgroup\$
    – HelloWorld
    Feb 3, 2018 at 11:33
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Glad to help. Adjusting the last slider (whichever one you choose) gives you an animation the helps to figure out exactly what is darkest. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    Feb 3, 2018 at 12:08

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