Let Shadows Speak

Dynamic lighting in a photo begins with direction and quality of light, but it doesn’t stop there. Part of the effect in dynamic lighting is where the shadows fall. You know that rule in physics that says ‘for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction’? This tension also works in photographic lighting, except that we could rewrite the rule as ‘for every light there is an equal and opposite shadow.’

So controlling the light means controlling the shadows. This effect can create lighting that is dynamic, three dimensional, and eye catching.

We can learn basic lighting conditions, whether in a natural setting like in travel photography, or in a more controlled setting like when using strobes or window light. To add to this wonderful skill is the ability to read the stories that shadows tell.

Telling stories with shadows is a great way to learn dynamic lighting. When we can learn to see where the light falls, how much it falls off and in which direction, we can start designing images that tell stories.

Where you stand to take a photo affects where light and shadow fall in the final image.

The photo of the two people was lit using ambient light, light from broken walls and holes in the ceiling of an abandoned mansion. There was light coming from above both the woman and the man, and the shadows falling around them framed the shot. If I had moved a little to the left, two things would have happened: the man would have been out of the line of sight of the 50mm lens I was using, and the woman would have had less shadow on camera left. Positioning the camera where it was, I was seeing the way the shadows would frame the scene. Moving around is one way of controlling the direction and amount of shadow in a photo.

Pools of light and pools of shadow create drama in this image.

Another vantage point that was deliberate was in the next photo where the model is below the camera; I was standing on a ledge in another broken building. The light was coming from camera left, through a broken wall. The harsh midday light created deep, dark shadows around and beside the model, making shadows on the wall, and forming pools of shadow around the path she walked. The mystery created by the shadows gives the photo a story telling quality I would not have achieved if I had the whole scene lit up.

Paying attention to shapes created by shadow can make a shot dramatic.

Lighting a scene, we know, doesn’t need to be complicated. In this shot of some Indian fashion, I only had a high window to work with, and a distant doorway some 300 meters behind the model. I found a place where the window light would directly shine on her face and side. Having done this, I also saw that the curvy geometric shapes and their shadows in the image complemented the pose and dress of the model, so I played up the shadows by underexposing the background and using a small aperture. The slower shutter speed gave me a sharper take on the dress plus created a three dimensional image. Controlling the settings to augment shadows in a shot is another way of allowing shadows to tell part of the story.

Telling a story with a photo doesn’t just depend on where light illuminates and what it illuminates. Where the shadows fall also speak stories.

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You might also like:
All You Need is a Window
Let the Light Inspire You
The Beginner’s Guide to Photography’s Holy Trinity
11 Ways to Build a Better Photo
10 Online Resources for Photography Enthusiasts
How to Stay Creative

 

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About Aloha

I am a photographer and writer currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. My work has appeared in CNNGo, Canon's PhotoYou magazine, Seventeen magazine, The Korea Times, Thailand Tatler, and a few photography books including recently Blogging for Creatives, a book published in the UK. I believe there is nothing you cannot imagine that you cannot do.

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