Shadows | NZ Photo Art



After I bought my very first camera as an amateur photographer, I only focused on the light and did not pay attention to where the shadows fell. I now realise what a pity this was that I did not know any better. Shadows are not simply a dark mass that borders the light, but an entity that is as alive as the light itself.

To light a subject you want to photograph with your light source from the front may seem to be a universal recipe for good photography, but it is not. Front lighting results in the absence of shadows on your subject and produces a flattened effect, doing nothing to bring out detail or providing an impression of depth. The human eye sees in three dimensions and can compensate for poor lighting. A photograph is only two-dimensional; therefore, to give an impression of form, depth and texture to an object, you need to be creative using shadows.

Shadows are a photographer most powerful element in modelling a three dimensional object on a photo, which is a two dimensional medium. Paint artists use shadows to give three dimensional effects, and so should photographers as well. A photographer creates a picture with light and a paint artist uses paint, but the same principles apply.

Some of the most powerful uses of shadows are to reveal form, texture and to guide the attention of viewers where you want it, as shadows always have a shape. Shadows are also spectacular for highlighting emotions to generate dramatic and mysterious effects. Shadows create contrast, which is a highly effective method to create high drama in a photograph. One of my personal favourites is when shadows are used effectively when taking photos of an elderly person’s face with wrinkles. If you are smart with your shadows, you can capture so much emotion and drama in a photo of our precious elderly people.

Light creates shadow and the interaction of the two is fascinating. Mastering the shadows are just as important as mastering the light, and will open up an almost infinite window of opportunity. Shadows can reveal details that can create striking pictures of ordinary objects that are otherwise hardly worth photographing.


Refer to the photos of the soap above. The soap has only one colour without any contrast. If you have no shadows on the soap, you will only see a silhouette of the soap without any detail whatsoever. The photo on the right has very little shadows due to poor lightingKiwi techniques. In the photo on the left, I tried to be smart with shadows to reveal the form of the soap as well as the texture. The only difference between the two photos is the positioning of the light. The camera settings are exactly the same in both photos.

In the photo of the capsicums, I used shadows to reveal its form. Even the little scars on the yellow capsicum are visible due to the shadows. Imagine this photo without any shadows. The shape of each capsicum will be completely lost as each capsicum has very little contrast in colour. The photo of the kiwi fruit is an example of using shadows to reveal texture.

Most of the time the direction of the light is the great differentiator between a great and a poor photo.


Hard light creates deep shadows with hard defined edges, while soft light creates broad, soft, shadows with a feathered edge. The distance of the light source to the object casting the shadow will also change the characteristics of the shadow.

Pictures taken with a flash or in direct sunlight often have dark shadows and bright highlights that can be harsh and unflattering. If you are shooting in full automatic, your camera will have problems finding the balance between the bright highlights and dark shadows, and will result in washed out colours on the photo.

The good news is that even the sunlight can be managed to give a soft light resulting in soft pleasing shadows. In the next post I can give some ideas how to manage different light sources cheaply.

Be creative with shadows, it is free and will also transform your picture into a piece of art.

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