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When many photographers are taking photos they forget to take the shadows into account. Shadows can be thought of as the opposite of light and when the interplay between the two is created with skill and understanding the results can be truly outstanding!
Shadows can spoil a photo but when used correctly they can add pathos, atmosphere and give the image a more powerful impact on the viewer. There’s a fine balance to be struck when you’re using shadows in your photography and getting that balance just right isn’t easy and will take some practise.
How To Use Shadows in Your Photography.
There are many ways that you can use shadows in your work. One of the easiest ways to use shadows is to create strong contrasts within the image. You can highlight the subject of the image by using unlit, shadowy backgrounds, draw the viewers’ eye to the subject or create interest within the photo.
When you’re using shadows in your work don’t be afraid to move your model around to get the light just right. Alternatively if you’re shooting a static object then you can move around yourself to get the shadows lined up the way you want them to be.
Shadows can also be used to great effect when you’re shooting subjects with a clear and recognizable outline – for instance, a tree, a person or a building.
Create Focal Points and Use Angles.
You can use the shadows in an image to create strong focal points by incorporating the shadows within the subject. Shadows that cut strikingly across the face of a subject, for example, can help to highlight their features.
Another way that you can create a focal point using shadows is to angle your camera downwards keeping your subject at the bottom of the frame. This will put the shadow above them and although it will make the negative space of the shadow the focal point the viewer’s gaze will naturally drift down towards the subject itself.
There’s a great deal of experimentation that you can do by using different angles in your photography to change the impact of the shadows. Shot from below, shadows can create a haunting image of a subject whereas when the shadows are going across the face it can be softer and more inviting.
Use Shadows To Direct Attention.
When you are composing an image always keep an eye out for shadows that can be used as leading lines. You can then position yourself or the subject of the image at the end of the shadows to direct the attention of the viewer towards them. This is a great technique that can be used in landscape, cityscape and urban photography.
Shadows Can Accentuate or Reveal Textures.
Textures are an important part of photography and when you emphasize them it helps to make the image feel realistic and emotive. Shadows can be used to highlight and reveal textures in a subject or landscape which might otherwise have been missed by the viewer.
Ripples on a lake, wrinkles on the skin or the cobblestones on a pavement can all be drawn out and shown in their full glory by using their shadows in your work. Dramatic lighting will usually bring out the best in terms of shadows so try to find situations where you can make use of this.
Shadows Are Highly Emotive.
You can use shadows in your photography to portray powerful emotions, an unnerving sense of mystery or subtle drama. You can use the tones of the image to put across almost any emotion while making the atmosphere work for you. Clever and well thought out deployment of shadows can transform a mediocre image into an artistic masterpiece.
Shadows Can Create Distance and Perspective.
Shadows always add depth and further dimensions to a photo when they are used properly by the photographer. You can use shadows in your compositions to show distance and emphasize the position of the camera in relation to the subject or the landscape. Equally, you can use shadows to highlight close up shots of people and really draw the viewer into the image.
Tips for Making the Most of Shadows in Your Photography.
Time of Day.
When you’re thinking about when you want to shoot a landscape or a subject while incorporating shadows the time of day makes a huge difference to finished results. During the Golden Hour, in the early morning and late evening, you can use the long stretching shadows to create leading lines and moody shots.
Alternatively, if you shoot at midday you can find some harsh shadows that are short but very intense. This can be used in any type of photoshoot but it may give the image a slightly overexposed look.
The Golden Hour is the best time to shoot if you want to create silhouettes and dramatic shadows in your work. The long shadows that stretch across the landscape as the sun is rising or setting are generally more prominent and interesting than the shadows at midday.
If you want to create strong shadows in your image then you can use the technique of backlighting to get this effect. Backlighting is fairly simple to achieve and is when the light is positioned behind the subject of the image and you are shooting from in front. You can easily create a silhouette like this but you can also use it in less extreme ways to create heavy shadows on your subject, in a portrait for instance.
Experiment with Artificial Lighting.
When it comes to using shadows in your photography artificial lighting can be your best friend! You have complete control over the angle, strength and direction that it is shining from which you can experiment with to get comfortable with using shadows in your work. You can take this knowledge with you anywhere and use the things you’ve learned in the real world to achieve the results that you have envisioned.
As well as using artificial lighting in your own studio or in a controlled environment you can also find a lot of it at night in the city! Bar signs, street lights and other billboards all create powerful sources artificial of light which you can use in your work. In many cases you can find artificial lights of many colors in the city and these can be used to make some very interesting compositions. In some situations you can create some really magical photos and in others they can turn out to be haunting, eerie and atmospheric.
Use a Single Source of Light.
To make some powerful shadows in your photography you can use a single source of light such as an open door, a window or an artificial source of light. This works best if you are operating in a dark space with dim lights so that the single source of light is emphasized even more.
When you test this you might be amazed that you don’t actually need a lot of light to create impressive effects. Remember that you might want to use a tripod so you can take a slow shutter speed shot or use a large aperture to properly capture the light. If you are using a north facing window as a source of light you will usually get a softer light than if you use one which faces east or west.
Direction of the Light.
When you’re using shadows in your work you need to keep in mind that both the quality of the light and, more importantly, the direction of the light plays a critical role in the outcome of the image.
Lights which are focused and carefully directed create powerful and dramatic shots of subjects with strong shadows on one side of them. Alternatively, if you use a softer and diffused source of light you can create lovely feathery shadows that flatter the subject and subtly bring out their features.
Softer lighting will still define the edges of your subjects features but they will make gently receding edges, even when lit from the side. The strength of the light will also determine the depth and dimensions of the subject with respect to the shadows.
Editing Your Shadow Photography.
When you are using shadows in your photography it’s often a good idea to give the photos a little attention in the editing suite. You can easily adjust the contrast of an image to make the shadows darker and stronger or lower the contrast to make the shadows look softer and rich.
While editing though you need to be careful not to over do it and instead rely on the photoshoot itself to get the results you want. If you overdo the contrast the photos will look fake and might take away from the actual effect you were trying to achieve. Even so, a little bit of tweaking and touching up can go a long way, especially if you were using a soft, low light.
Mastering Shadow Photography Will Add Depth and Impact to Your Work.
Once you have practiced and learned how to make use of shadows in your photography you’ll quickly notice how much of a difference it can really make! Using shadows in an effective way is as important as using light and when you start to incorporate the interplay between the two you’ll be creating high level professional quality photos that will stun your audiences.
Shadows add depth, pathos, extra dimensions and emotional impact that draws in the viewer and brings the subjects of your photography to life. Always try to be aware of how the light and shadows are playing off one another and use them to compose magical photos that portray the inner essence of your subjects.
Have you used shadows in your photography?