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Most photographers, experienced or learning, seem to concentrate on two major elements when it comes to photography: light and gear. Both are essential and complement each other. You can get away with bad gear if you have good light, and you can shoot in low light if you have good gear. But nobody seems to be talking about shadows these days and I believe most photographers tend to forget their importance in what makes a good photograph.
First of all, shadows should not be viewed as patches of absent light. They are just as important as light, because they shape it and draw attention to it. Mastering those counts just as much as knowing how to use light. This sounds scary, especially for amateurs who would do anything to have as few shadows as possible in their photos.
But they can create amazing effects in photography and if you use them correctly, they will work in your favor.
Besides revealing form, shadows show texture. But, if you want to show texture rather than form, you will have to get closer to your subject. A stronger shadow will make textures more visible, so look for a low horizon sun, or if you use artificial lighting, use a bare flash.
Points of interest
Shadows can be successfully used, just like light, to bring something to attention in a photograph. For example, if you shoot a portrait and want to focus the attention on the eyes, you can use shadows to darken everything else. This kind of dramatic lighting creates a powerful visual impact and it’s a great way to focus the viewer’s interest where you want.
It’s one of the most important elements in creating powerful images. Contrast naturally produces a dramatic effect, and scientifically people are drawn to tonal contrast. It is basically the interplay of light and shadow. The more powerful the contrast, the stronger the lights and shadows will be and the more attention it will grab. However, because it is basically a relationship between the two elements, there has to be a certain balance, otherwise you end up with an overexposed image or too much shadow.
Shadows are very often used to reveal form. Take a look at the image bellow and image it without the shadows. If it had been photographed with the sun directly above, it would have probably presented little interest. Other good examples are photographs of silhouettes with a sunset background.
This is just the 101 of how shadows can help you creatively. Can they be your worst enemy sometimes? Definitely. But that all depends on your lighting skills as well. A good photographer knows where to put his lights and where to cast the shadows. Each serves a specific purpose and should have a positive contribution to the overall impact of an image, but you also shouldn’t forget that creatively using shadows can also be a part of personal style.