Beware the dark side, that famous sci-fi-movie "master" more than
once cautioned his young protege re "The Force." But the dark side--a.k.a.
shadows--is well worth the photographer's attention. While the eye
is drawn to bright areas in a photograph, the interplay between bright and dark--between
highlight and shadow--can make for a terrific photo. And shadows themselves
can be good photo subjects. (They can also be very effective distractions--another
good reason to pay attention to them when shooting!)
shadows are everywhere. Keep an eye out for them.
Outdoors, the best shadows occur early and late on clear days, when the low-angle
sun creates long ones. You can have the shadows loom toward the camera by shooting
toward the sun, or extend from the camera by shooting with the sun behind you.
Generally, shooting at an angle to the sun produces the most effective shadows,
as they'll then run across the frame. Go out with your camera first thing
in the morning or an hour or so before sunset, and watch the shadows as you
face in different directions. When you find something that looks neat, shoot.
Shadow patterns on the ground make good photo material, but so do shadow patterns
on subjects such as rocks, buildings and even people. For example, position
a person under a latticework, and watch the light and shadows on his or her
face (this isn't great "formal" portrait lighting, but it's
a neat special effect).
Left: The Shadow Photographer captures Rocky Peak from the next
bump over. It's fun to include your own shadow in a photo
once in a while.
Right: Outdoor shadows are very long early and late in the day
when the sun is near the horizon. All Photos by Mike Stensvold
unless otherwise indicated
You can also deliberately cast a shadow (or in scenic photography, wait for
the sun to move to the right position to do it) to add interest to an otherwise
too-evenly lit scene. For example, if you're photographing a rock formation,
the whole formation lit evenly makes for a dull photo, but if a large foreground
rock is in shadow, the whole image takes on more "snap."
While contrasty scenes can give reflected-light metering systems problems, the
multi-segment metering systems in most of today's AF 35mm SLRs handle
such scenes quite well. The beach photo shown here was made with an entry-level
AF 35mm SLR camera in aperture-priority AE mode with multi-segment metering
and no exposure compensation. But, as always in tricky exposure situations,
it doesn't hurt to bracket exposures.
Actually, light--and the way it interacts with its complement, dark--is
a key element in every photograph. So watch those shadows and put them to good
The multi-segment meters in many AF SLR cameras--film and
digital--provide good exposures with no compensation. But
it's a good idea to bracket exposures anytime you're
dealing with contrasty or unusual lighting.
Right: Shadows provide lots of opportunities. Explore different
camera positions. From this camera angle, the shadow looks to
be doing its own thing. Photo by Ron Leach
If powerful imagery is what you seek, try creating a silhouette. This technique
allows you to dramatize a subject when the shape is more important than form
or texture, or when you simply want to make a striking statement on film.
Shooting a silhouette is easy: simply position your subject in front of a bright
background, and expose for the background. Any brightly colored surface works
well--a glittering ocean in the late afternoon, a light-colored wall, or
a glorious sunrise.