Me and My Shadow

We rarely consider photographing shadows, but oftentimes the long shadows created in early morning or late afternoon light are so dramatic that they can actually become interesting subjects for our photos.

Shadows exist wherever light exists, but we tend to overlook them, partly because our eyes are drawn to light--and because we're usually looking for some other type of information rather than the juxtaposition of light and dark. Shadows cast by people can be particularly interesting. They're expressive yet anonymous, because the person casting these shadows could be anyone.

Previous page, top: These shadows seem to emphasize the child's mood.
Reader photo by Nancy Carr, Monorville, NY

You can photograph the subject and its shadow or just the shadow alone. For example, in one of these accompanying photos, we don't see the lamp post that casts a shadow on a building, but it becomes an intriguing design element on this monolithic rendering of architecture. It's even more interesting than if we saw a photo of the lamp post itself. Photos that capture the shadow and not the subject are striking because--as with silhouettes--they leave everything to the imagination except for the shape of the subject.

Silhouettes are also, by definition, shadow photos. The light strikes the subject from behind, and you're photographing the shadow side. For the best silhouettes, pick a subject with a strong, easily recognizable shape.

A deep shadow creates a striking design element.
Reader photo by Rrichard Nesdale, Encinitas, CA

An interesting shadow is cast by an unseen lamp post.
Reader photo by Richard lotman Brown, Kansas City, MO

Long shadows cast by an object can become an important part of a picture's composition, such as with the image of the mountain. Shadows can also be used to conceal unwanted clutter in a photo, which calls attention to the subject. By creating some contrast, shadows often emphasize the color or brightness of a particular light source. Shadows can be very dramatic, such as a light subject emerging from the moody darkness. You'll want to emphasize the highlighted portion of the photo to give it some punch.