The Best Time for Shadow Photography

Peter Lagomarsino June 8, 2018

Importance of shadow effect photography: Key reasons uncovered

shadow photography

While lighting is crucial for capturing breathtaking photographs, shadows are equally important to good composition. Proper use of light and shadow in photography can transform any simple image into eye-catching contrasting form visuals. The proper interplay between light and shadow can create movement in any image. Shadow photography isn’t all about dark masses bordering the light; shadows are a different entity as vibrant as light instead. An attempt at capturing the play of light and shadows cast by a fire escape on the building and below is a simple example to emphasize this point.

There are various reasons why shadows are utilized to enhance the main element of a captivating photo.

  • Shadows help intensify the subject. Proper incorporation of shadows within a photo can prove to be a strong element, as the separation between light and dark can be used to intensify the subject. This effect is the dramatization of contrast. The eye sees dark objects first and switches back and forth between light and dark at the frequency with which our brain perceives the form, sort of like a human radar that defines the size of things rendered in shadow.
  • Shadows create depth. One of the biggest advantages of shadow photography is that it adds depth present in the images. As shadows come in all sizes and shapes and at varying angles, how a shadow falls on the subject or enters the image creates depth in the photograph, making it multidimensional and more vibrant. The shadow also help the brain to define form even if subconsiosly. An example is an Escher painting which is an optical illusion that our brains can’t conceive because they are impossible. Shadow helps define the sizes of forms in an image and can eve n inform us of the time of day.
  • Shadows enhance visual interest. Abstract shadow photography is often considered as more pleasing to the eye. Images that play only with the light tend to be more flat and one dimensional. On the contrary, playing with shadows help create more dimensions. I have found that the best time to photograph anything is 9am and 3pm because of the angles of the sun.
  • Shadows promote realism. The world isn’t without shadows. So thoughtful incorporation of shadows helps the images to take on a more realistic feel as shadows encourage the element of realism. But when we design we design with solids that cast shadows. In order to contrast the shadows of solids we must also use voids in our work as well.

Tips for shadow effect photography

  • Shadows cast differently depending on the time of the day. Midday sun is the strongest, resulting in high tonal contrasts and sharp shadows, while sunset light and early morning light descend at a sharper angle, making the shadows less sharp. But the angles are not as dramatic.
  • Quality and positioning of the light source is heavily important in capturing shadows. If it’s closer and stronger, shadows are more defined and stronger compared to distant and faint illumination.
  • Picture composition can be dramatically altered if proper attention isn’t paid to placement. Both the object that creates the shadow and the surface cast upon need to be considered.
  • Shadows can also be used in a thought-provoking way to mask areas of the face when it comes to portrait photography or the façade when it comes to buildings.

Apart from these, shadows can be employed as the focal point of images. This unique use not only demonstrates the avant-garde approach of the photographer but prompts viewers to explore the often-overlooked visuals as well.

Have you ever tried shadow photography? How was your experience? Let us know in the comments section below. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads for more tips and updates. If you have time, remember to check my book, The Fire Escape.



Harris, Geoff. 2013. “Creative Use of Shadows in Your Photography.” Learning with Experts, July 22. Accessed April 10, 2018.

Harman, Christina. 2016. “Working With Shadows in Your Photography.” Contrastly, March 5. Accessed April 10, 2018.

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Peter J. Lagomarsino

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Peter J. Lagomarsino is the author of Confessions in a Crown Vic where he discussed the last century’s development and offered his take on the “American Dream.” He’s the creative dire . . . read more

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