The Importance of light in photography cannot be overlooked. Especially in light and shadow photography, where you can create amazing images while playing with the light.
This type of photography is known for its capability to transform a plain image into something extraordinary.
In this article I wanted to introduce you different ways to create shadows with lighting and how different lights and their direction are resulting in the final images.
Shadow portraits have a more in-depth-element in them, so learning to use the shadows for your advantage will benefit you in the future.
Indeed, the way you use light in your images, has the potential to dramatize your imagery. When I started my photography journey, I was especially intrigued in playing with light photography. Whether it was natural light or built-up with flashes, extraordinary lighting has always been the favourite element in my images.
What Is Shadow Photography?
Defining the term shadow photography is literally any kind of photography where you are using shadow as an element to emphasize your image.
A shadow is defined as a contour of an object that forms due to the blockage of a light source. The shape of a shadow changes depending on the position of an object and light source.
Shadows come in various forms and sizes, and therefore result in different visual effects when used in different ways, such as creating silhouettes, forming objects in themselves, adding texture to the subject, forming sub-frames, among others.
Depending on the angle, distance and size of the light source and your subject, you will decide the form, scale and intensity of your shadow.
Shadow photography is also known as manipulation of the light source, exposure of the shadow to add or remove darkness from the image.
The following is a summary of the most common means in which shadows operate to further the composition of an image.
Shadows with a textured see through element
I find this to be one of the most interesting ways in creating shadows; choosing virtually any element that lest you create shadows will work. And the elements can be surprising, so trying out different ones will result in interesting portraits.
Often times I used lace, a strainer or cut out different shapes on to a cardboard to personalize the outcome.
Repeating patterns lines or shapes will create a design. Shadow photography that include using some sort of prop is nothing unusual and easy to attain for any level of photographers.
One great artist that works with light in a magical way is Icelandic photographer and director Saga Sig. Her way of combining natural light and the way she plays with light and shadows in just incredible. The importance of light in photography is the main element in her images.
Creating mystery with the shadows
Deciding how much light you want to let in your image, you can experiment with letting very little of the subject to be seen. This can be just a part of the face or an arm, and thus brining mystery to the image.
Shadows will bring elements of drama and will work when creating dramatic portraits or a flamboyant mood.
We use terms like hard and soft to describe the quality of light when what we are really describing is the line between light and shadow. Harder shadows will communicate more dramatic moods.
What is in light and shadow, what is bright and dark, how and where the shadows fall – all of these work together to communicate the mood of an image.
Shadows in still life photography
We often think shadows are just the shapes that we leave behind in broad daylight. But when going a bit deeper into the shadow and light photography, you will quickly notice that creating the shadows from any objects or elements you have, is possible and even adviced.
We already discussed see trough textiles, but I also want to emphasize see through glass and plastic. Experiment with drinking glasses or plexi boards – the shadows will be more graphic and the depth will be more vivid because of the viewer being able to see through the main subject of the image.
This is even better to be done with colored background; combining all these elements will work simultaneously in building the final image.
Natural shadows in building a setting
You’ve probably seen these beautifully aesthetic settings done with natural light. They are simple to create if you have enough of the natural light in your use. The harder the shadows the more we connect it to this midday heat and warm climate. If you are photographing people, softer light such as what you’d have on a cloudy day would be more ideal.
The hard light will also illuminate any drinks or other see through objects you have in your setting.
A popular way of using the shadows you get from natural lighting is adding plants and their leaves; it adds a feeling of nature and communicates pure, clean and natural subjects.
Shadows in street photography
When I started out photographing, the most natural focus I had was my surroundings and events I’d witness while going about my life. I learned to distinguish moments where a beautiful play between light and shadow would occur.
This required me to look for hard light; looking for something that I could use as a tunnel in order to bring a narrow light through and create shadows.
This occurs during a season when the natural light source is low; like spring and winter. Of course, the time of day plays a big part in that too, regardless of the time of year.
One reason photographers favor early morning and late afternoon/evening is not just for the golden hour, but for the low light angle and more dramatic shadows.
Always position yourself to be facing the light, so you’ll be on the right side of the shadows forming. Waiting for the perfect moment for the person to move and create an exceptional shape requires patience, but is well worth it.
Taking advantage of studio lighting while creating shadows
This is the main reason I enjoy working in the studio setting so much; you can manipulate the light as you please and create pretty spectacular images. The only thing that happens to some photographers because of this, is that they learn to only work in a controlled setting and experience difficulties when they have to move to an unexpected location.
And because of this, there cannot be any elements of surprise happening, due to no changes in the light. To deepen your knowledge, try to master both, so you wont feel intimidated by the other.
If you want to find the best portable studio lights, you can find more lighting options here.
One of the most well-known studio light settings is a circle-shaped light, also known as a spotlight. This shadow portrait is easy to create even in a home environment. The continuous light can even be made with a DIY project; it’s pretty easy and cheap to build yourself.
Positioning yourself the right way
All photographs will have areas of light and shadow, but you can use the shadow area as a component of its own. Especially in still light photography, the main focus is actually the shadow of the subject.
Not moving the subject you’re photographing, but moving yourself to better see the shadows – or if possible, to move the light source to build up different kinds of shadows.
Be mindful in knowing that black and white images will enhance the shadows in the image, but learn to also shoot with color, in order to challenge yourself.
The role played by shadows is more easily understood – objects would cast shadows on the floor or surfaces, which could create lines to complete the geometry in a given shot.
In other situations, large, bulky objects create a shadow in form of a shape, which blots out a profound area in frame. Whereas for light, most of the time it appears in form of negative space, filling in areas that are not taken up by shadows.
Going out with the specific composition in mind and capturing the shadows in photography is an easy way learn to better see shadows and understand how the light works in general.
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