Shadow Play: Working with Light

Learn to capture dramatic pictures

by Kerry Drager

Lamp Shadow 3
Lamp Shadow 3
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved

Finding Subjects

Successful shadow photography can result from a person or an animal; or from the bold shape of an object. Also be ready for graphic design shadows such as lines, curves, patterns, angles, or repetitions. When shooting shadows, the key is to choose subjects that have simple yet strong forms and that are surrounded by brightness.

In particular, brilliant low-angled sunlight makes for wonderfully long shadows. For instance:

Self-Portrait, Old Dump Truck
Self-Portrait, Old Dump Truck
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved
With sidelight, which comes from the right or left, shadows stretch across the scene.

With backlight, when the sun is behind the subject, shadows race toward the camera.

In frontlight, which comes from behind you and hits the subject head-on, the broad coverage of a wide-angle lens could allow you to incorporate your shadow in the picture - for a "self-portrait"!


Playing It Safe
Contrasts in lighting can fool your camera meter. To ensure that a shadow becomes very dark or black and the sunlit areas show good color and details:

Temporarily fill your viewfinder with a middle tone that is illuminated (i.e., a mid-blue, mid-brown, or mid-gray area that's not in shadow), take a meter reading, lock in those settings, re-compose, and shoot.


After - Shadow
After - Shadow
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved
Beware of overdoing it - i.e., a shadow that occupies an overwhelming part of the picture frame. Remember: It's lighting contrast - the mix of both darks and brights - that makes for striking shadow shots.

Lastly ...
For sample shots, check out BetterPhoto's excellent "Shadow Pictures" gallery.




About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Kerry Drager
Photography Instructor: Kerry Drager
The content manager and course advisor for BetterPhoto.com, Kerry Drager is also the co-author of two books: The BetterPhoto Guide to Creative Digital Photography (2011) and The BetterPhoto Guide to Photographing Light (2012). In addition, he teaches photography online at BetterPhoto's digital photography school.

Be sure to check out Kerry's Pro BetterPholio website - www.kerrydrager.com.

Also, he is the author of Scenic Photography 101, the photographer of the photo-essay books The Golden Dream: California from Gold Rush to Statehood and California Desert , a contributor to the books BetterPhoto Basics and Daybreak 2000, and a co-photographer of Portrait of California. In addition, Kerry was profiled in the April 1994 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine and in Vik Orenstein's 2010 book The Photographer's Market Guide to Building Your Photography Business, and his website was showcased in the January 2003 issue of Shutterbug magazine. Plus, his work has appeared in magazines, Hallmark cards and Sierra Club calendars, and in advertising campaigns for American Express and Sinar Bron Imaging.

Also follow Kerry on Facebook, where he posts photos several times a week that include shooting tips.

Kerry lives with his wife, Mary, on California's Central Coast, with their three Newfoundland dogs, four cats, and a mixed terrier.