Essence of Photography: Shadows

Wherever there is light, there is shadow. If you've never considered using shadows as the main subject of your photos, maybe you should!

August 28, 2019


While you might consider creating photos of people, buildings, and other physical objects, there is often another subject of the image right there as well.

The shadow.

By placing the shadow as the main subject of the photo, you can create some fun and unique images.

Consider these ideas and example photos when photographing shadows.



You and Your Shadow

One of the easiest ways to photograph shadows is by using yourself as the model. Shadows can be longer and more pronounced in the morning or evening.

Try going outside and find an interesting scene to take a shadow portrait. You can incorporate other elements into the scene as well.





Flip It

You might find that when you photograph shadows, they may be facing the opposite direction of the original subject. Look what happens when you rotate a photo by flipping it upside down. This gives the illusion that the shadows are physical people.





Shapes in Shadows

Any kind of geometric objects can create interesting shadows of shapes and lines. Depending on the light, it may be possible to combine the shadow of an object with the object itself to form a new shape or design.





Shadows From Above

At a certain angle, shadows take on a distinct form, appearing more like the physical objects they represent. Placing yourself at a higher vantage point, such as a window in a building looking down on the street, can provide an opportunity for great images.





The Shadow Tells Part of the Story

Sometimes shadows can provide additional detail to the story (within the photograph) that were not conveyed by the main subject.

Consider these photos of a mother and child walking.

We can only see their legs, but we know they are holding hands by the shadow on the ground at their feet.

In the photo below, the shadow of the bank sign lets us see more about the location than what appears in the physical objects in the photo.





Shadow Theater

Have you ever made shadow animals on the wall?

With the right scene and lighting, you can create a whole photo story as shadows projected on a wall or surface. This can be more effective when using a recognizable form like a person, an object, or even your favorite pet.

Check out these creative scenes made up entirely of shadows.





Shadows as Symbol - Film Noir

Film Noir is a style of cinema that became popular in the 1940's. Typical movies were crime stories involving hard edged detectives, gritty cities, and a beautiful femme fatale (female) character. These films are a great source of inspiration for how shadows can be used for dramatic effect.

Sometimes the shadows are cast from a window or somewhere offscreen, creating shapes and patterns on the subject of the photo. Often the shadows are used symbolically as a metaphor to depict the light or darkness of the character's personality.





Black and White or Color?

Many of these photos were in Black and White. Do good shadow photos have to be in Black and White?

Not necessarily, although by removing color, Black and White photography accentuates shape, form, and lines. This makes shadow photography a perfect subject for this medium.

However, you can also create some great photos in color. With the right lighting and subject, you can even photograph a colored shadow.




Essence of Photography is a series of tips, tutorials, and visual inspiration on a variety of photography skills and techniques.

All photos in this article were posted to the Aminus3 Photography Community and are copyrighted by their respective photographers.

Click on any photo to see a larger version or to leave a comment for the photographer.

Want to share your own shadow photography experiments?

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TOPICS: essence of photography composition

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