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Photographing The Perfect Shadow

by David Peterson 0 comments

Photography is known as the art of capturing light. But did you know that the counterpart of light, the shadow, also plays an important role in the creation of an image? We all know what a shadow is, it’s that stalker that keeps following us on bright sunny days or well-lit places at night! Shadow is more than that though, it is also the darkest area of a scene as opposed to the highlights which illuminate the brightest. The challenge in shooting a scene that contains both highlights and shadows in it is to record the details without washing out the highlights or turning the shadows into unrecognizable black areas.

Shadow is simply a figure formed behind an object when it is illuminated by light at an angle. In photography, an image without a shadow is often two-dimensional in shape. But with the addition of a third component, the shadow, this shape is transformed into a form. This transformation gives the shape a noticeable depth because of the shadow created by the light falling on the subject, resulting in a three-dimensional image. Since a photo is viewed in a two-dimensional medium, showing the image in its three-dimensional form makes it more realistic and visually appealing to the audience.

Focusing on Shadows

Now let’s take it a step further. Why don’t we make the shadow as our main subject? By focusing on this element alone you can do wonders with your photography. So here are some tips you can use when photographing shadows:

1. Use shadow to enhance your subject

A shadow can add excitement and balance to a photo. Sometimes you will encounter situations wherein the elements in a scene seem to lack something. Oftentimes this happens when you have a swathe of white sand in a beautiful beach location. The view looks stunning and perfect. However, the foreground seems to lack details due to the white swathe of sand lacking in visible texture. Utilizing a shadow to throw balance to the scene will not only add detail to the plain ground, but will complement and enhance your main subject as well. This works not only for a expanse of sand but in any terrain where you have a big chunk of monotonous light color. The shadow will add contrast to it.

2 Make shadow your main subject

Now that we learned how to enhance an image using shadow, why don’t we use it purely as our main subject? That’s right, shooting shadows can be fun! Consider creating figures on a monotone background. To make this work, look for a plain light-colored background for example grass, a wall, sand or anything that does not have a distracting pattern or a dark color. Remember, your shadow is already in the shades of gray or black. So you want a background that will contrast with it so that the figure formed will show up clearly. Look at this sample of what you can do.

Creative, isn’t it?

3. Create concept type images using shadows

Conceptual photography is a type of photography that makes use of graphical symbols to convey an idea or a message. The message can be anything you may want to get across, from political or social commentaries to simple, everyday things. Using shadows to create a concept is easy since the subject that can be formed would already be graphic. All you’ll need is a creative idea to add an additional element to it such as has been done in this whimsical photo.

4. Create abstract forms using shadows

Abstract photography is similar to abstract art wherein the subject focuses on shape, form, pattern, color or texture. The focus is only on a portion of a whole object but the viewer will understand or recognize the image by what is implied. The whole object is not the literal subject of the image but rather the emotional feel it evokes in the viewer.

Shadows can be great subjects for this type of photography. They offer a wide range of possibilities due to the endless figures or patterns that can be created in nature or artificial surroundings, all it takes is an observant and watchful eye. This is also a good way to exercise and develop your eyes for photography.

Look for shadow patterns or textures created on a blank wall, grass or any background of a light, monotone color. Shoot in monochrome for best results since this would enhance the patterns or textures created on your light background.

5. Shoot in monochrome or black and white

Nothing beats shooting shadow subjects using monochrome or black and white. Why? Put simply, the shadow itself is already in the shade of gray or black and shooting it against a backdrop of white or light colored objects converted to monochrome or B&W creates a contrasting image. This removes any color hue which may compete with our perception when we view an image. Usually when we view a photo, our eyes are drawn to the play of colors or to the graphical shape or form in the image. In a monochrome or B&W image, with the absence of color, the subject will have to stand on its own merit. Having a strong graphical shape or form will be an advantage and the shadow as the subject has just that advantage.

Factors affecting the creation of a shadow

Having realized some of the creative things you can do with shadows, the potential is infinite. All it takes is your imagination. Now let’s review how shadows are made.

The direction of the light: The shadow that falls from a subject is determined by where the light is coming from. In photography there are several ways you can position the light to illuminate your subject. Placing it in front of your subject is called frontal lighting. The light that shines on your subject lights up the whole scene. However, since the shadow that is formed is behind the subject, it does not show up in your camera position so the resulting image tends to be flat or two-dimensional.

The next lighting position is called side lighting. You can position the light at an angle or towards the side, this is the ideal position for lighting a subject so that the shadows are visible from your camera position. The light that falls on the subject sculpts it and reveals its contours and texture. This creates depth which in turn exaggerates the dimension of the subject and helps create a three-dimensional image. This results in a spectacular image that attracts your viewers.

The last position that you can place your light is behind the subject. This is called back lighting. In a back lit scenario, the shadows created will be dramatic. But it can be tricky shooting in this type of scenario. Because the light is behind the subject, there is a tendency for the light to filter through and cause a lens flare. To avoid or minimize this problem, use a lens hood, a hat or a black board placed at the top of the lens to shield it from the sun’s rays but make sure it does not obscure the subject. You could even use the elements in your subject to cover the direct rays of the sun.

Another shot that is made with a back -lit subject is the silhouette. It is shot by exposing for the background light and rendering the foreground under-exposed, or plain black. A silhouette works if your foreground subject has a strong defined shape that will trace out easily in a bright background. A silhouette though is not considered as a shadow since the image formed is the actual subject and not a figure formed resulting from a sun’s rays.

Lastly, the height of the light source determines the length of the shadow.

Considering the subject, the higher the light the shorter the shadow and vice versa. Think of the long shadows of early mornings compared to the short ones of mid-day.

Quality of light

Another factor that influences the shadow is the quality of the light being used. If the light source is big or is located far away, it creates a soft or diffused light. This will result in a shadow that is light and the edges faint.

If you use a small light source or illuminate the subject at close range, a hard light is produced and this will create a shadow that is well defined and the edges sharp.

By having a clear grasp and understanding of how shadows are created, you would be able to easily anticipate or even recreate a shadow. This will give you the edge in shooting this subject.

So the next time you see that shadow chasing you on a bright sunny day, aim your camera at it. If you can’t lose him, use him!

[ Top image [ another head hangs lowly ] by Flickr user [ changó ]]

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Difficulty:
Beginner
Length:
11 minutes
About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.