Photography Tips: Using Shadows to Your Advantage

The best photographers know that using shadows to your advantage gives a picture a dramatic edge. Follow these photography tips to learn to use both light and shadows to impact your photos.

Step 1 - Eliminate Unwanted Shadows

Some models seem to attract shadows no matter how much light is focused on them. Rather than trying to get rid of these shadows with an ordinary flash, use a Fill Flash to take shadows away from below the nose and around the eyes. Don't overpower the model and give her a completely bland and featureless face. Instead, use a camera-mounted flash on half-power to drive out the shadows, and encourage the model to lift her chin slightly to eliminate shadows under the nose. Don't allow her to round her shoulders too much either, as this posture can create pools of shadow below the neck and collarbone, making her look waifish.

Step 2 - Enhance Other Shadows

While eliminating unwanted shadows, you should also enhance other shadows. For example, when you are photographing a subject outdoors, you should face her with a 45-degree angle to the sun, so that the sunlight provides a natural flash to the photograph. Also, don't forget that a little shadow in a picture is actually good for the photograph, as it creates drama and a three-dimensional image.

You could also turn your model so that she is standing with her back to the sun. This will form a long, distorted shadow against the ground. This can add a little bit of interest to an otherwise conventionally framed photograph. In addition, if the sun is high in the sky, you might want to place your model in some shade, in order to prevent the camera from photographing in hard light.

Step 3 - Photographing Still-life

Photographing shadows on walls, or geometrical shapes thrown up by the shadows of fences or trees can be another way to use shadows to create an interesting picture. Many still-life photographers use a mixture of light and shade to provide drama in what would otherwise be a boring picture of inanimate objects. Use black and white photography on a bright summer day to get interesting and unusual shadows on buildings (you can even photograph the shadow cast by a cloud on a hill).

Step 4 - Use Shadows with Candid Shots

Another alternative is to use shadows during candid shots of family or pets. Shadows here can create an impression of movement and action, or accentuate the naturalness of the composition. In this case, do not worry too much about shadows falling on faces or limbs: this is part of the style of candid photographs, and every shot does not have to be perfect.

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