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.
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.
In this shot, the light source was held close to the dried flowers and this gave large, exaggerated 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.
Here are some other examples of pictures where I have employed shadow as a compositional element.