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A Spotlight on Shadow Photography

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What is Shadow Photography?

Lighting in photography can make or break a photograph – it all just depends on how you use it. While there is often a focus on avoiding shadows in your photographs, there are numerous artistic benefits to embracing the balance between light and dark. After all, having an awareness of how light works allows you to manipulate it to your advantage.

When talking about photography, the term ‘shadow’ is used to describe the darkest parts of an image and not necessarily just the shadow an object creates (although this is also a focus of Shadow Photography). Think less Peter Pan and more focus on attention to light. Therefore, utilising shadow is a great way to shape the composition of your photo.

Shadows don’t always have to be dark. Naturally, when you hear the word ‘shadow’, you automatically think of dark tones and heavy shades. However, with the use of fill lights, you can still light every single part of your image while retaining shadow tone. If you expose your fill light two or three stops below your key light, you will still have the appearance of contrast in your images, but you will retain all the finer details that would be missing if you hadn’t used fill. Remember, the use of light is the important factor here – regardless of the tone.

How to Shoot Shadow Photography

1. Actively look for the shadow

When shooting, its natural to avoid shadows if they are going to compromise your photograph. However, when you are practising shadow photography, you need to change your mindset. Instead of avoiding shadows – chase them! Once you actively seek out the shadows surrounding us, you’ll start to notice the numerous ways in which they take shape and gain a perspective that might not have appeared if you were pointing your camera elsewhere.

2. Consider the positioning and quality of the light source

The positioning of the light is the most important part of shadow photography. If the light source is far away and faint, the shadow will be much softer and less defined than if the light was closer and creating a stronger illumination. Similarly, the direction of the light directly affects the shape of a shadow. If an object is lit from the front (or front-lit), the shadow will be difficult to capture on camera, as it will fall behind the subject. Contrarily, if the object is back-lit, it will cast a shadow toward the front of the composition.

3. Have your camera settings ready to go

Shadows come and go unpredictably – some candid shots may disappear in seconds – so its vital that your camera is as poised as can be. Its important to note that it is possible to edit your photo in post production, but you can make a start by tweaking your camera settings before you go.

Photographic exposure must be adjusted to allow the film or sensor, which has limited dynamic range, to record detail in the highlights without them being washed out, and in the shadows without their becoming undifferentiated black areas. Most digital cameras will have an automatic metering mode which will determine the exposure, but they can have their flaws. Instead of underexposing your subject or silhouette, the camera may light it up instead to avoid a dark photo.

Close your aperture to one of the smallest settings as you want to limit the amount of light being emitted to create a harder, more defined light. This will allow you to create a starker shadow – especially if you are using an object to create and manipulate the shadow.

4. Modify or manipulate your light source

Although shadows can be found wherever you choose to look for them, there is beauty in making your own. If you are creating your own light source with spot lights or studio lights, there are a number of techniques that can form creative shadows. For example, sheer curtains and blinds can be used to reduce or diffuse light, making it softer and subtler. You can decrease the size of the light source to increase shadows and increase drama with the use of blackout curtains or by partially shutting doors. Remember, the more light you let in, the less intense the shadow will be.

5. Choose the best time to shoot

In order to capture a clear silhouette, you’ll need the background to be brighter than your subject. The best way to make sure that your environment is primed for the perfect photo is to shoot at the beginning or the end of the day. If you want to capture a silhouette, you’ll create the best results when the sun is low in the sky. Depending on whether you are an early bird or a night owl, that could either be when the sun is rising or setting.

However, there is beauty behind the candid nature of shadow photography – so don’t be afraid to take the shot whenever the moment arises!

Shadow Photography with Portraits

Shadows can take portrait photography to a whole new level and depth and introduces another artistic medium to express the personality of the person behind the photograph.

To create a dramatic portrait shot, place your subject into the bright light, and shoot with -1 or -2 exposure compensation (or even some cameras, -3 exposure compensation).


Objects with interesting shapes are perfect for shining your light source through onto your subject too. Different shapes and textures will alter the story of the portrait and convey a whole new meaning. For example, covering half the face in shadow suggests that there is more than meets the eye. Focus on eyes also adds a level of depth and mystery. Experiment with shadows on the face and see how the meaning changes.

Showcasing Your Shadow Photography

You’ve crafted the perfect shot and the results are definitely worth showing off. Don’t keep your photos in the dark – print them! Whether you’ve created a professional portfolio, or just want to collate your photography in one place, a CEWE PHOTOBOOK is the perfect way to print your work.

A Large Landscape Photo Book is a versatile size for all types of photography. Available with Lay Flat binding, your shots will be presented across a double page spread that does not have a gutter (and therefore doesn’t interrupt your work).

What Paper Type Should I Choose for Shadow Photography?

Matte Photographic Paper is a great choice for Shadow Photography – especially on a double page spread in your CEWE PHOTOBOOK. Matte paper is known for highlighting the details in your photographs, which is important when it comes to showcasing your main topic – shadow.

Framed Photo Prints

Shadow photography also looks impressive as a focal point on your wall. A Framed Photo Print is the perfect way to turn your photography into a talking point, wherever you decide to place it.


If you’ve taken a photograph with an impressive use of shadow, make sure you tag us on our social media channels at @cewephotoworld on on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.


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One Reply to “A Spotlight on Shadow Photography”

  • Said Hany says:

    Attempted some shadow photography in the past. The article is helpful, & I’d probably experiment with some shadowing in this period of hard events.
    Thank you

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