Finding the Light, Part 2: Using Shadows and Light for Dramatic Portraits

One of the most important factors in a good photo is lighting. You can have the perfect settings, great exposure, and even knockout composition, but if you don’t have good lighting, your image will fall flat. In this new series, Finding the Light, we are going to be talking about how to find and work with all types of lighting. Our goal is to help you understand how to work with all kinds of light, and how to use the light you have to create powerful, standout images. Today we’re going to be talking about using shadows and light, but if you’re just joining us, you can follow along with the rest of our series here:

Part 1: Finding the Light
Part 2: Using Shadows for Dramatic Portraits
Part 3: Shooting the Golden Hour
Part 4: How to Shoot in Harsh Light
Part 5: 3 Ways to Use Window Light
Part 6: Creative Light Sources

One way to add an element of dramatic creativity to your images to is to experiment with the use of shadows. As photographers, we often seek out well-lit areas for our photos, but I want to show you some ways that shadows can actually add a new dimension of intrigue to your images.

Contrast

Utilizing shadows to your advantage can add great contrast to your images. The variance between shadows and the light in a photograph add a level of dimension and stark drama that can’t be found elsewhere. Look for ways to play on the shadows around you and use them to your advantage! In this image I knew I wanted to experiment with the contrast between the shadows of our garage and my daughter being fully lit by the mid-day sun. Using the shadows present in this scene made for a pretty dynamic picture.

using shadows and light photography
f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/3200

Or this image below, where the highlights and shadows draw your attention to the activity of the moment:

ISO 100, f/1.6, 1/6400

Silhouettes

Silhouette shots can add great artistic variety to any photo session! I love to capture silhouette shots towards the end of a photo session as the sun is going down, and my clients love it too, because they can relax knowing that their faces aren’t the center of attention!

IMG_8452
f/2.2, ISO 125, 1/500

Silhouettes are formed by placing your subject against a brighter source of light, in these cases, the sky. Exposing for that light source causes the subject to be darkened into a shadow. This dark, rainy silhouette was shot between the typical Missouri storms of early summer. The sky was dark and moody, and I had a vision for creating an image that was outside of my normal style. By placing the subject against the sky, I was able to use shadows to create an image that told a unique story.

IMG_0226-Edit
f/2.5, ISO 100, 1/800

If you haven’t shot a silhouette before, you’ll love this awesome tutorial!

Dark Spaces

If you’ve ever been in a dark place and thought there was no way you could get a quality image, think again. Examine the light that does exist, and use the shadows created in your environment to create an out-of-the-box photo. This image was taken in a dark theater. I snapped the photo just as the stage lights were coming on, and I love how the single light source plays on the dancers to create such a dramatic image in the dark space.

using shadows and light photography
f/3.2, ISO 10000, 1/800

Tired of Spending So Much Time in Lightroom? Click Here to Sign Up for Our FREE Webinar!
mon-zack green

The same idea applies to this photo. This was taken in my dark kitchen late in the evening. As I lifted my son to sit on the counter, I noticed the soft light that swept across his face from the adjacent window. At first glance, I would have never looked into the room that late at night and seen a “perfect” setting for a photograph. But when you begin looking for light in unexpected places, you can see that even a dark room affords you the opportunity to capture a strong photo.

IMG_5141-1
f/2.8, ISO 320, 1/200

So next time you’ve got your camera out, rethink the way you evaluate your light. Step out of your comfort zone and explore light in ways you may not have thought of before. Challenge yourself to incorporate shadows into your images, and see what you come up with!

Have you loved these tips? Don’t forget to read along in the rest of our series here:

Part 1: Finding the Light
Part 2: Using Shadows for Dramatic Portraits
Part 3: Shooting the Golden Hour
Part 4: How to Shoot in Harsh Light
Part 5: 3 Ways to Use Window Light
Part 6: Creative Light Sources

And don’t forget to check back as we continue our series on Finding the Light!