Join Steve Simon for an in-depth discussion in this video Looking at images where shadows are the emphasis, part of Photo Critique of the Week.
- You know, photography really is about light and shadow, but I don't want to talk about light, I want to talk about shadow. Hi, I'm Steve Simon, the passionate photographer, and welcome to another episode of Photo Critique of the Week. And as I said, I want to talk about shadows, because I think that shadow can be a very powerful subject matter, and to prove it, I brought some examples to show you, and that we can talk about, and that we can learn from. I'll just quickly run through some of these images, and you know what? A lot of these images are really strong images, and the commonality, or the one thing that they all kind of have is strong light and dark components, and not necessarily a lot in between.
So when you're dealing with light and shadow, and generally high contrast situations, it means some technical things have to be taken care of, but also the composition has to be really strong in order to accentuate what it is that you're showing here. Though there are shadows in all these images, they're all a little bit different, and that's the beauty of pursuing this. You may be watching this and thinking, "I have some strong shadow images as well," and I'm not surprised, because as photographers, the shadow knows it's going to be a great and interesting picture.
So let's just come back to the top and talk about each of these images individually. I think in this image by Linda Hacker, I mean it's all about the color. Obviously the orange is so saturated, but the thing about a shadow is when the shadow works best often is when it's a recognizable shape. It's a similar situation to silhouettes. I mean in essence a silhouette is essentially a form of a shadow, so as long as you can kind of recognize the shape of that shadow, that adds to the power of the picture, because the viewer understands that this is a person.
I think for me what really is interesting about this photo is it's one person, but you've got two different shadows, and I love what's going on here with the hand, and that's really kind of interesting to me, and in some ways it's the strongest part of the picture. The one thing I said to Linda when I saw this image is I wish there was just a little bit more space on the top. Only because I feel that the crop is a little bit too tight on the top, but it's by far not a deal breaker because you can see she included the top part of the head, so the head isn't cut off.
It looks like we see fruit here. It's probably an image of fruit, it's just sort of beyond its normal size, but fruit is apropos because the color is so strong in this image. I just wanted to see what it looked like if I were to just maintain this part of the image and turned it into a vertical. What happens? I don't know if the shadow here is necessarily as recognizable in this particular crop, but it's always worth a look and to see if something is going to work or not. It just takes up a little time, but it's time well spent when it comes to bringing out the power of your images.
This one also is by Linda, so if you want to get these kind of high-contrast images, you can tell they're all shot when the sun is low in the sky. As I've often said, if you're looking for these types of images, well your chances are you're going to find them. So this is shadow and silhouette. You've got the shadow here of what looks like some sort of structure or building, and then you've got the silhouette of these two gentlemen as they're walking by, and everything counts in the picture.
I mean yeah, being the scrutinizing critiquer that I am, sure if there was a little space between his face and whatever this is on the wall, it's just a little bit of an unfortunate coincidence that whatever this thing is here, it's only there and not anywhere else, and he's walking right into it. But again it's not a deal breaker. There's separation between the two. Notice the little things like the way he's holding his cigarette there, and that body language really does contribute to the photo, because you see it, it does have its visual weight.
So yeah, if maybe it was a little bit further back, and that's the timing thing, but it's still I think a very beautiful and strong image. It's about color and lights, and dark. In this image by Linda Jeffers, she combines this incredible light with the right moment as this runner is just levitating on this gorgeous path. I think that compositionally it's exactly where it needs to be. She's on the left side of the frame. She's got a lot of room to come in. You've seen me critique images where it's good to have the subject, even though they're sort of looking toward the edge of the frame, they're at the edge of the frame, where there's not a lot of room for them to sort of run into the picture.
I think that's on a case by case basis. In this image it happens to work really well. The fact that she is on this side of the frame, and this area is all dark, so you kind of hover and tend to stay here most of the time. I think what helps the separation here between the trees, and it would be nice of course if the sky extended a little higher and she was totally in white, but to offset that, Linda arranged for light to be back lit and really outline the head as well as the entire body here, which makes this silhouette and shadow work really well.
And Linda obviously likes shadows, and this is just kind of a fun picture of these kids literally playing with their shadows, and creating shadows, and enjoying what's happening. It's a stark composition that really works. Room enough to breathe, a little corner dark area works as well. Ana Blanco gives us a little more complicated shadow image. It looks as though the shadow of this gentleman here is melding into what might be a reflection here. Again, you're not really sure exactly what you're looking at, but you definitely get a sense that it's New York.
Whether it's an image of New York, whether it's a real shadow, whether it's a real reflection, well maybe that doesn't really matter, does it? All that matters is what's being communicated and the mood that's created. It's very interesting to me the way it's divided right in half, and again the common guide of thirds will tell you that this is something you shouldn't do, but in this particular instance, it really works very well in terms of the way the shadow is separated from the lighter area here, and New York in the background, so it's a really intriguing image.
This image here of the shadow of the people at the Apple Store, I think is also very effective. You can't really tell exactly what is going on up there where they are. They're in a different universe. They look very alien-like, but I think the image really works. Then Steve Attard, again it's the opposite image to Linda's shot where they're coming the other way. A very similar image. This one was taken in the Wall Street area. At that time of day aside from shadows and silhouettes you end up with a very textured light on whatever is being illuminated, and in this case, the texture of this really amazing structure, so I think the thing that really makes this image work best is the fact that this woman here, you can really see the outline of her face.
You can see here that this gentleman is probably looking a little bit toward that way, so you don't really get a full sense of the outline of the face, but by having one of the figures, albeit the smallest one, looking in that direction where you can see the very clear outline, and if you knew her you would probably recognize her just from that shadow. Very effective, and these little points of light too when you really start to scrutinize the image are also very strong. Lynn Skilken noticed how the light was affecting and coming on the wall there.
It's just kind of simple and beautiful, and you can see the highlight on the chair. I think it works really well. Then Frank Mersland shot again at 9/11. The fact that the figure is in deep shadow and silhouette, and the Freedom Tower is very beautiful and illuminated. It makes the contrast really great. I think that the composition is key here as well. You can see how Frank was able to separate the figure from the building there, and you know what? That matters, these little things really, really matter, and the other thing I notice about this is the gesture, which is the hand on there, and that's a very delicate and appropriate gesture.
So the bottom line is, when it comes to shadows, you find a place where the shadows are happening, and then you just keep shooting, and I don't have a lot of images from this situation, but when I noticed the shadow illuminated on the wall here, I stood there probably for a good 13 minutes, I don't know exactly, but a good amount of time, until the light started to change, and it wasn't as strong, and waiting for the most interesting and recognizable shadows to pass that way.
So sometimes the light is changing very fluidly and you need to move, but often when you've got shadows happening, if you're patient, the shadows are going to change, the texture is going to change, but the bottom line is that just an image of the shadow evokes something really kind of interesting that you can add to the work that you do, if you go and choose to seek it out. Well that's it for this episode. Thank you for watching, and I hope you'll join me in the next episode of Photo Critique of the Week.
Check back each week to watch as more critiques are added, covering new work from many different genres. This series is designed to help you discover how to improve your work as a photographer. By heightening your awareness through analysis, you can harness the information to enhance your photographic eye.