Using Shadows

July 31, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

There are many sources of lead in lines; fallen trees, railroad tracks, water, footpaths, roads, etc. One that is often overlooked is shadows. We can use shadows to point into the image thereby encouraging the viewer to look that way. How are shadows best used?

  1. The best shadows are from early sunrise or sunset light. They have detail in them and are not just black and dark. Harsh light causes shadows that are heavy and dark with no detail in them resulting in negative space.

  2. The best shadows come from something prominent in the foreground. Something prominent in the foreground is going to grab attention. There is no better place to start than where the viewer's attention already is. The shadow now helps the viewer to direct his or her attention further into the image, thereby creating depth. Shadows that do not come from a prominent foreground element may compete with this element rather than flow from it.

  3. The best shadows point into the image rather than out of it. The flow of the image needs to be taking people's attention into the image. We never want viewers to leave our image, so it does not make sense to point them out of the image thereby losing their attention.

  4. Slanted shadows are generally better than shadows that are horizontal or vertical. They are more dynamic and do not tend to divide the image into two parts as horizontal or vertical lines may sometimes do.

Let's look at a few examples:

The shadow contains detail. It slants into the image. It starts from a prominent foreground element.

Look for shadows and use them compositionally to strengthen your image and to create more depth. Beware of your own shadow. Sometimes it may add interest in the image; at times it may distract.


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