Hello and welcome to my blog. Today I'm going to talk about the use of shadow to create effects in your photos.
When we start out as photographers we imagine that we need lots of light and that everything must be fully light up. However, we begin to notice that in certain images it's the shadow that gives us the effect we want.
What we are inclined to forget, at the early stages at least, is that we mostly photograph three dimensional subjects, the image is recorded onto a two dimensional chip, edited on a two dimensional monitor and printed onto two dimensional paper. To avoid our images looking flat and uninteresting we must try and create a three dimensional effect in our images. We do that by including shadow on our subjects.
Sometimes we look at a photo and see immediately that shadow is what makes the image. In this photo of the Desmond Banqueting Hall in Newcastle West we see a lot of shadow in the clouds. This is the main focus of the image and without it we would have a plain image of a building.
It's not always as obvious as this however and we often overlook the shadow in the image and don't realise what it is that gives it it's three dimensional result.
This image of detail from a stone wall on the Burren in Co. Clare would not work without shadow. When I arrived at this scene first I was facing a wall with the sun shining directly on it. It looked flat and uninteresting. I found a section of wall that was running at an angle to it and this is the result. The shadow gives the feel of the texture of the stone and the shape of each one. Without the shadow, the roughness of the stone and the sharpness of the edges would not be obvious. All it took was to look for a different section of wall, just five meters away, to change from a flat uninteresting image to one of depth and texture.
Shadow is just as important in portraits. We can use shadow to make our subject stand out from the background or to give three dimensions to our her. Either way, we must be conscious of where we place the shadow and how much to include.
With all portraits it is vital that we can see at least one eye clearly and that our subjects eyes are sharp. It doesn't matter how well we've done on all other aspects of the portrait, if the eyes are not sharp or not clearly visible, the photo fails. There are exceptions to this, as always but 95% or more of the time we need the eyes visible and sharp.
In this image of Sinead shadow slims her face, while giving it form. You will notice that both of her eyes are in the light and sharp. Our subconscious plays an important role in how we interpret images. Large bright areas are seen as big in real life also. When we turn our subject fully towards the camera and light her face fully, our subconscious tells us that the person is large. By turning her at 45 degrees to the light we are reducing the bright area on her face and tricking our subconscious into seeing her as slimmer than she actually is.
This is easy to do with a single person or indeed a small group but it's not so easy with larger groups. In a natural light situation you may find yourself unable to fit a large group into the space available unless you turn them fully into the light. Sometimes we have to make compromises and don't get the image we want. In this case it's better get an image that satisfies most of the rules rather than get none.
In general, you should work to include shadow to give shape to your subject. As already mentioned you can also use shadow to make your subject stand out. Sometimes we get a dark subject and are tempted to add light but this is not always the thing to do.
In this image of an alter the shadow keeps attention on the alter and creates a nice triangle around our main subject. I could have used a speedlight and filled the area with light but it would have taken away from the image. Instead, I used a high ISO rating and took the image as you see it. There are more items in the shadow area in the background, including plants and religious items, that would have taken your attention. So, by exposing for the light on the alter and using only the natural light, I let the shadow hide the distracting details.
In portraiture we can do something similar. For example, if using window light, place our subject on the edge of the light, close to the window and expose for that. Unless you are in a very well light room, with several windows, the room will fall into shadow. You may need to throw some light back on your subject from behind, so as not to lose detail in her hair or clothing. This can be done using anything white and that's large enough.
The image on the left shows what I mean. I used a large reflector to throw the light back on Chrissie and it helped to separate her from the background. The difference in the lighting levels on Chrissie and the background allowed the background to go completely dark.
This effect can be used on a bright day, using a window that is not facing directly into the sun. Artist's studios have what's known as "north light". This means that the window is north facing, to avoid direct sunlight, giving a lovely soft light. We can get a similar effect with an east facing window in the afternoon or a west facing window in the morning.
Bright cloudy days give a similar effect. However, on a bright cloudy day the light is bounced about the place by the cloud and comes in the window in all directions, often lighting up the entire room evenly. Closing the curtains so that there is only a narrow gap open will usually solve this problem.
So, that's it for today. I hope I've given you food for thought and that you'll try using shadow to improve your photography.
Until next time, take good care of yourself and those you love. Enjoy your photography.