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

railings

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.

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