We create images with light … and shadows. In many of my images, like the ones above, shadows play a big role and they are an important part of my visual toolbox. Of course there are many situations without shadows and I also love shooting on overcast, foggy and rainy days with little or no shadow. I’d like to share with you some of my observations about shadows.
The look and effect of shadows can be as varied as the different kinds of light we encounter. The shadows created by a summer sunrise or sunset can become strong elements of composition, but toward the middle of the day, with the sun is directly overhead, the shadows are less interesting. Time to take a long lunch break. In the winter, when the angle of the sun is low in the sky, there are long dramatic shadows for most of the day, but those days are shorter.
In strong sunlight, the difference in exposure between light and shadow is about four f/stops, but this varies with the surroundings and the weather. Large areas of blue sky can lighten the shadows and give them a blue color cast.
When the light comes from behind you, the shadows shrink as they are projected away from the camera, drawing the eye of the viewer into the distance. In back-light situations when you are facing towards the sun, the shadows get wider as they fall toward the camera, creating a looming effect, almost as if things are moving toward you. Shadows from the side highlight the shape and texture of the subject and can give an almost 3D effect.
Shadows can be used to isolate and highlight a small sunlit area of the image to very dramatic effect. Then there is what I call the “proxy” image – a shadow of an object which isn’t in the picture at all, but is represented by its shadow. There’s a mystery to these images that reminds me of a wonderful quote from the late Diane Arbus …
“A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.”
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