Monthly Archives: January 2010

Looking at shadows

First posted 30 January 2010

As photographers we are primarily concerned with light, but often the most interesting shapes come from the absence of light – the shadows. We are usually instructed as photographers, that our exposures should be worked out accurately to ensure that we have plenty of shadow detail, but I often find that having a deep shadow, or even a solid black, can give a stronger picture. Using shadows creatively can impart a powerful compositional element, -the black areas give strength to the image.

1297 amaryllis and shadow

The way shadows become distorted as they spread over an uneven surface is also very interesting to me and has been a very important element in many of my shots. In this shot of the Amaryllis, the wall was uneven so the shadow took on a more fluid shape.

1428 vase and shadows

In this shot, the light source was held close to the dried flowers and this gave large, exaggerated shadows.

1439 plant shadows

Here I have used silhouette and shadows to cause crossed over, abstract shapes.

Getting a deep black in the shadow area with film could be achieved by underexposing slightly, though I would prefer to expose normally and to increase the blacks during printing by giving a little extra Grade 5 after the ‘normal’ exposure. This would gradually deepen the shadow detail, depending on how much extra exposure you gave it.

I’m planning on covering this printing method in the next blog post on Split Grade Printing.

Boosting up the blacks in Photoshop is a simple matter of moving the left hand slider in ‘levels’ until the chosen density is achieved.

So to be able to spot this king of image, you need to be more aware of the shadows rather than the scene itself. To do this I find that whilst looking at a potential scene, squinting really helps. When you half close your eyes you reduce the light intensity to the point where the darker tones don’t register and appear black. You can then assess the strength of those shapes as regards the composition of the image. Here the shadow falling across the wall from a bay window gives a false perspective to the interior of this shop.

shop shadows

Here are some other examples of pictures where I have employed shadow as a compositional element.

table shadows


1733 pear and shadow

One Comment

  1. Posted 07/11/2010 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    I must admit, most photographers talk an awful lot about cameras, equipment, lenses and filters etc, but not so much about actually taking photographs.
    I like the shadows series shown here, which shows a variety of subjects taken in interesting lighting conditions. It’s nice to see traditional methods used here for a change instead of digital imaging .
    Another blog on exposure meters and how to use them correctly would be nice.


First posted 11 January 2010

I’ve been thinking recently about how I see myself as a photographer/artist and how my students see themselves. They generally downgrade themselves with comments like; ‘I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be shooting this kind of stuff’ ‘Is this ok?’ and ‘I feel like I’ll never be as good as you’. The trouble with this kind of thought is that it keeps the student in a state of indecision and negativity. How can this progress into ‘I am a photographer and I feel confident in my ability and vision, -look out world, here I come’.

At what point do we morph from indecisive blundering to confident artist? The technical stuff can be learned, but when do you consider you have got to a point where you can hold your poise in a room full of good or great photographers?? For myself, I often thought I was not good enough, and I used to think that was normal.

I assumed that all other photographers felt that their work wasn’t up to standard.

I tried hard, kept learning and trying new techniques, always pushing myself to be better. I mastered various techniques and then moved on to others like I was passing exams. I did nothing with the finished pictures, they just sat in boxes at home. I would occasionally show them to friends, but never thought they were good enough for anything else.

Then I was pushed into taking my work around various galleries and publishers in London by my (then) first wife.

She booked a coach and arranged for us to stay somewhere, so I looked up a few galleries and publishers and we traveled down for a few days. From that visit I got a few prints in a group show in a small gallery.

chimneys, rotcher

The boost that show gave me created a greater urge to improve and learn, so I applied myself to a greater degree, but I didn’t try to be a commercial photographer or earn money from it, because I never saw myself as ‘qualified’ yet.

I was eventually persuaded by a good friend to enter the world of commercial photography and so I began to tout my folio around advertising and design agencies. By this time I had been doing photography seriously for eight years.

I found work pretty quickly, but after a few years of this kind of photography I realised it wasn’t for me. I eventually pulled out and made money by doing non photographic work.

I can say with all honesty, that each day I worked in these various trades I was thinking to myself that I wasn’t meant to do this, I should be doing photography. I knew I was in the wrong place and I knew I was wasting valuable photography time. This convinced me that photography was my calling, I had to take it more seriously and to see myself in a different way, which I did. Once I stopped seeing myself as an amatuer who happened to have a few strong shots, and to re-brand myself as someone who had a mission to be part of the real world of photography (at least the part of it that my style of photography fitted into), things really started to take off. I wasn’t snapping away, waiting to see if it came out, I was really thinking about how I saw things.

2527 collander, eggs

Some of the strongest images in my portfolio were taken in those years. My life was busier than it had ever been, with three small children to look after and a gallery to run, but I was on fire! That simple change in my perception of myself and my work improved my output in a really profound way.

1756 dads lily

Nowadays, when my students have achieved a certain level of ability I tell them to see themselves as photographers, not students, even if they are still in the education system. I believe that self belief is crucial to your personal development. Not a deluded kind of self belief which shouts from the rooftops, but a sense that you are on a mission to produce something of value to the world.


  1. Posted 11/01/2010 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    I have always found the hardest part has been to take myself seriously! This maybe because I am not a professional but a true amateur. My eyes were opened last year when someone I paid very good money for an image at a Paris Foto Show. I must admit to feeling that I do not want my images to sell for lots of money and that I’d love for lots of people to pay a little and the thought that I have somehow made someone happy with that which I have produced. When do we become photographers is an interesting discussion – for me it is seeing images all around when I am not really looking – more often than not it is someone I have seen and I immediately think I’d love to make a portrait with you…

  2. Posted 12/01/2010 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know, I guess I just love thinking about photography and making pictures.
    I can’t sell myself, I don’t usually say I’m a photographer, I just say I like taking pictures.
    Maybe until I’m actually making money from it then I will always consider it a hobby.
    So at the moment saying “i’m a photographer” feels that I’d be misleading people.
    It’s a confidence thing for sure.

  3. Posted 12/01/2010 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    It is fear!

    I am a photographer – how good I am is for other people to assess based on their perceptions, biases and interests.

    Vicky – I would call you a photographer and feel that the title entirely appropriate.

  4. Posted 13/01/2010 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Yes indeed, so difficult. For me it has been taking some time out of other work to devote my energy to a 2 year MA in photographic Studies. This level of commitment to my photography set something up that has been so rewarding – a community of fellow students and a structure. I needed that level of interaction with other artists to see myself and my own work more clearly. And I miss it now its over; I’m hitting the ‘what’s next’ and trying to hold on to the energy of the past two years. I’m in danger of not fully taking in that I am a photographer, perhaps that is why I am looking here…

    Good wishes to you, and thank you for sharing your experiences here.

  5. lmend
    Posted 03/02/2010 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    thank you for this post! this is a constant struggle for me; i especially appreciate your enlightenment.