5 Tips for Using Shadows

The source of all photography is light. Without light you don’t have a fighting chance. Wherever there is light there are shadows. Lying within the shadows are some great photography opportunities for the taking. Soft light is generally the easiest to work with because it creates soft shadows but, soft light can also lack impact. If you know how to use shadows in the right places you can add drama to any photograph. These 5 tips will help you create imaginative and creative photos using shadows.

Look for shadows.
Of course, the best source for shadows is natural sunlight, but you can create the safe effect in a studio using electronic flash or tungsten lamps. Photographing foggy areas that are lit by the sun will give you a hazy, soft photograph. To add drama photograph the sun as it falls through the trees or over water. You can also use the sun’s shadowing effect to capture snow, dew, and foliage. Shadows add contrast and depth to your images creating striking effects.

Get up early and stay up late.
When shooting outdoors you can use the long shadows produced by the low angled sun to lead the viewer’s eye in a certain path through the photograph. Shadows can be very striking and demand the viewer’s attention as soon as they look. Shadows that angle in toward the camera are also great for catching attention and creating interest. During the day time the shadows tend to fall flat and wide and can be used in a number of ways. Sometimes the fat shadows are comical and make great stock photos.

Make the shadow the main subject.
Instead of trying to run away from shadows, embrace them. For an unconventional, but creative photograph make the shadow the key element. Keep your eyes open in your travels for shadow projections across the ground or on the side of a building. The center of shadows, the umbra, is dark and deep. The edges of the shadow, the penumbra, are soft and muted. If the light source is true you will not get the penumbra effect, but instead deep dark shadow. This is the best way to capture a shadow clearly.

Use Silhouettes.
Using Silhouettes is a great way to harness the power of shadows. The subject should be easily identifiable by the viewer. Try using birds, people, buildings, shapes, flowers, trees, or whatever you can think of. The viewer should be able to tell what the picture is as soon as they look at it, not just a black blob of a shadow on a page.

Be Creative.
Instead of hating the shadows and running from them, use them and work with them. Existing shadows in a photograph can create contrast and intensity. The contrast will help define existing subjects. Shadows also create interesting lines that don’t always occur in nature. Try snapping shadows when they are long and misshapen, or even when they are flat and wide. Any distortion can be used to create an interesting subject for your photographs.

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