Shadows

In our obsession, we buy studio lights so we can get more of it, at the right color and direction. We use multiple lights to eliminate unwanted shadows! And to add highlights. We buy reflectors to fill in the shadows and we bounce our – on camera – flash off the ceiling to avoid shadows on the walls.

A quick search in any library or bookstore will show dozens (if not hundreds) of books and magazines devoted to controlling light.

So far…I’ve never run across a book devoted to capturing shadows!

But, isn’t it the shadows that define mood?

Picture in your mind, a photograph of a smokey New Orleans, jazz club. Was your mental photo in color or black and white? Probably black and white, but even if it was in color, was the room well lit – OR STEEPED IN SHADOW?

When your subject is a little – shall we say, hefty – how do you tell them to dress for their portraits? In white? Or in black?

In case you’re new to photography, and know absolutely nothing about fashion, I’ll tell you – it’s black. Why? Because shadows define shape! If they are wearing white, all the shadows cast by their excess weight are clearly visible. Wearing black, the shadows aren’t that visible and thereby a person look thinner.

When you study the various lighting patterns, you’ll see they are almost all defined by the shadows – not the light! Rembrandt, broad light, narrow light, split light, butterfly and so on…it’s the way the shadows appear that determine the pattern. Without shadows, all lighting patterns would be the same!

Wrinkles are defined by the shadows. That’s why lights are always positioned directly in front of models – to eliminate any wrinkles. The same for blemishes. We mostly notice pock marks because of the shadows.

So, when you are doing a portrait session, consider the shadows. What kind of mood are you after? Do they have wrinkles or blemishes that need to be filled in? Do they have a wide face that can be narrowed by shadowing one side?

Photographs are on paper and are two dimensional, so the best photographers look for ways to include shadow. Can YOU add shadow to give the portrait depth and dimension?

When you start to think about shadows as intensely as you do about the light, that’s when your photography will move to the next level.

It’s the shadows that create the illusion of depth and shape and it’s the consideration of shadows that can turn a snapshot into ART. People will know they are looking at something special but they won’t know why, because shadows truly are the forgotten element.