We all know that shadows occur when an object comes between rays of light and a surface, but few of us stop to consider the vast creative potential of this everyday occurrence. We can use shadows to reveal form: when the sun is low, it casts long shadows across the landscape, accentuating dunes and hillocks. We can use them to add contrast, or to direct the viewer’s eyes around the frame, drawing attention to what is important and concealing areas that are less crucial.
Photographing shadows can also help us to reveal texture, and you can even make them the main subject of an image, cropping everything else out of the frame. Alternatively, you can leave a small section of the object/person creating the shadow in the composition. The possibilities are endless.
- Plato’s Dogs, a new book by American photographer Thomas Roma, is a great example of the power of shadows. Roma spent two years with his camera on an 8ft pole capturing shadows of dogs in a Brooklyn park.
- Shadows are longest when the sun is low in the sky, so try looking for them early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Look for strong shapes cast by recognisable subjects such as trees and people.
- For maximum contrast, try converting your pictures to b&w. It’s best to shoot colour then convert in post-production. If you use in-camera controls to shoot monochrome, the results can be a little flat.
- Exposing for a scene with bright highlights and deep shadows can be challenging, so decide how much detail (if any) you want to reveal in each of these areas and use the histogram to get the balance spot on.