Shadows in Photography

By Ian Middleton

Disclosure:

This website and its articles contain links and adverts. The adverts and some links, but not all, are affiliate links. This means that if you click and buy something I will receive a small percentage of money, but at no extra cost to you. The price remains the same if you buy.

Dark Backgrounds and Shadows in Photography -

How they make an object stand out.

When I started out in photography all I heard was “light, light, light. It’s all about the light.” And this is true, to a point. But what you don’t always hear people say is that shadows in photography, are equally important.

There are many ways in which shadows enhance an image: they help create shape and form and add dimension to an image which might otherwise appear flat. But for this quick photography tip I’m going to concentrate on another use of shadow: making an object stand out.

Essentially, a dark background can help make a brighter foreground object stand out. Test it using your photo editing program if you can. Change the background from white to black and see how the photo stands out more.

The same technique applies in landscape photography, or portraits and any other kind of photography. But here I’m going to show you how I use it in landscape photography.

In the photo at the top of this blog, it was September when the trees were still a vivid green, but because direct light was falling on the hill and church, and the background trees more in the shadow, the church and hill stand out much better.

Here are some others from that same location. Notice also how the shadows give shape to the hills.

Your subject must also be well lit

As you can see by the photo below, although the background is nice and dark due to the shadow, as the church itself is not well-lit it doesn’t stand out as well as in the top two photos.

Background too bright

In this photo, the background trees were not in deep shadow, so although the church is still quite prominent it blends more into the background and doesn’t stand out as well as the top two examples.

Other examples

In the photo here of the Grand Canal near Daingean, County Offaly in Ireland, I had spotted this scene the evening before, but light was falling on it from the front. Therefore the background trees were also directly lit and this tree blended into it all. So I returned the next morning and waited until the sun rose high enough to light the tree on the canal, but still low enough to keep the background trees in shadow.

Scattered storm light

The great thing about storms and scattered showers is that the broken cloud casts patches of light and shadow across the land. In this case, direct light fell on the tree lighting it beautifully, while the background trees were more subtly lit and the clouds had cast a shadow over little patch behind the tree.

Use a Polarizing Filter

The top two photos were taken with a polarizing filter.

A polarizing filter can help cut out haze and further darken a background, like in the example below. Read my blog here for more on that

At the mercy of mother nature

Studio photographers have the luxury of controlling the lighting and shadows in photography, but unfortunately we landscape photographers don’t have that luxury. Therefore we must learn to watch and wait, and also understand weather and watch the forecast. When it says there will be clear blue skies, I stay home. When it forecasts stormy weather, or scattered clouds and showers, I grab my camera…..

Rainy days are a different thing altogether. Check out my other blog entry, Rainy Day Photography, to learn about that.

My book

Learn Photography

For a more comprehensive look at photography, check out my book, available to buy at Amazon.

Shedding light on all the photography basics in one book.

Want to know how to take better photos? Well, first you need to master the basic techniques. Whether you are a complete beginner or an intermediate looking to improve your photography, this book is packed with photography techniques, tips and advice for beginners and intermediates.

All the camera functions and their effects explained.

View across Lake Bled to the island church and clifftop castle from Mala Osojnica in autumn, Slovenia.
Story behind the photo

Bled Lake always offers a unique moment

As I’m stuck in Ljubljana during the peak of the autumn colours and unable to get to Lake Bled, all I can do is reminisce on past autumn shots. Although Bled Lake is probably one of the most photographed locations in Slovenia, it never fails to provide a unique moment. Here I show you some from my Autumn in Slovenia Photography Workshop 2018.

Read More »
Last light on Mount Storzic in the Kamnik Alps at sunset, seen from Jezero Črnava (black lake) in Preddvor, Gorenjska, Slovenia.
Story behind the photo

What to photograph on a sunny day

Clear blue skies are a landscape photographer’s nightmare. It’s hard to know what to photograph on a sunny day with just blue skies. But when you get them, you just have to work with it. More often than not, if you are patient and look hard enough, there is always something you can make out of it all.

Read More »
close
SUBSCRIBE TO MY NEWSLETTER AND GET
25% OFF MY PRINTS & A FREE EBOOK

Subscribe and receive my regular newsletter to get the latest information about my workshops, new tutorials, videos, new photos and more.

All new subscribers get an exclusive 25% discount code off prints of my photos from my online shop plus a free download of my ebook: A Practical Guide to Photography. Code and download link will be emailed to you upon successful signup

I don’t spam! Read my privacy policy for more info.

Disclosure:

This website and its articles contain links and adverts. The adverts and some links, but not all, are affiliate links. This means that if you click and buy something I will receive a small percentage of money, but at no extra cost to you. The price remains the same if you buy.

“As an Amazon affiliate I earn from qualifying purchases”

A practical guide to photography by Ian Middleton.
Buy my book

Shedding light on all the photography basics in one book.

Buy fine art photography prints: canvas, metal, framed, acrylic, wood and more.

Find a rental car with Discover Cars



Smugmug - 15% discount
15% discount off all new Smugmug accounts

Save 15% off any new SmugMug account when you click this banner. No coupon needed.