The photo challenge theme this week by Jen is easily the one that speaks more to me than any other I have participated in, perhaps with the exception of the one I hosted last May.
Light and shadow are the two elements I pay most attention to when I use my camera, because without proper use of those two pieces of the equation there would not be photography. This week’s theme also speaks to me because it is one of my goals to completely immerse myself in flash photography this year and learn everything I can about the creative doors it opens for us as photographers whether shooting in broad daylight, or under the night sky.
As Jen mentions, shadows can add depth and drama to an image whether you let it dominate the scene or you add a little kiss to help turn a two dimensional image into a three dimensional one. In this image of Sara, I wanted to turn a young and pretty face into one that is shrouded in mystery and thought. By simply placing a single flash at 90 degrees to her face and bringing it to about a foot away from her, I was able to control the light and create the hard falloff from light to shadow and bring the ambient light around her to complete darkness.
In the image of Madeline below, I used the same single light setup , but moved the light about six feet away from my subject and placed it at a 45 degree angle to her body. I also added a white reflector to lift some of the shadows on her right side. By increasing the distance between the subject and the light, and changing its direction, I was able to create a drastically different feel of the image by using virtually the same lighting setup. Here, the light falloff is much more gradual, the shadows are much softer, and I was able to throw light onto the background. This technique is particularly useful when shooting an environmental portrait or headshot. The hard vs soft falloff from light to shadow is due to the inverse square law. Now, without turning this post into a dry “how to” about lighting, I’ll let you Google that term at your leisure. Basically, it means that the further your light source is away from your subject, the less intense your light becomes, and the light to shadow transition will become more gradual. This is a great trick for lighting a group of people in a room… place the light source as far away from the group as you can.
Of course you can also work with natural light and let it help to shape your subjects and scenes, but I personally find that to be a little more difficult to visualize so it is something that I continue to work on. Street photography has been a great way to help me learn to use light and shadow in a natural setting, such as in this image of a woman walking past the Royal Ontario Museum in downtown Toronto. In this image I wanted to show how the colossal building dominates the streetscape as a lonely pedestrian passes by. I think the mixture of light and shadow help the building to assert its dominance over humans.
Light and shadow play a hugely important role in the success of a photograph. They define shape and structure, and as I said earlier in the post, they help turn a two-dimensional image into a three-dimensional image. Every famous photo you’ve ever seen is famous for several reasons – subject matter, composition, time, place, etc. – but the common element in each of them is a perfect balance of light and shadow. And, if we take some time to study some of these images, our own photography will most definitely improve whether we mean for it to happen or not.