I am not one for fads or gimmicks. Gratuitous lighting or fancy props have never appealed to me. But there are times and assignments when calling on a specialty technique—like borrowing a specialty lens—might be in order.
I often talk about how we show shape by using light from behind. But another great way to show the shape of a thing or person is to let shadow climb over your subject. Keep this technique in your mental bag and pull it out for special occasions. You don’t use it every day, but it is there when you need it.
I have emphasized the value of light and shadow through the years, but never specifically talked about the technique of using shadow as a practical tool to explain or enhance a scene. It is sort of like photo adjectives that help describe the shape of a person or object.
Shadows might be just the technique needed to reveal the curves and contour of your subject.
Early in my newspaper design years, I learned form follows function. Similarly, with a camera, I observed shadow follows form—the shape of a thing—sometimes distorting it depending on the angle of the light.
Light coming from the side might wrap around an object, revealing its contour, its shape. Shadows also can add drama and mystery.
With portraiture, light traveling through blinds or even a colander can add both a practical and eye-catching touch to your photos.
Whether dripping down steps like dark liquid, or climbing over the shape of a face, shadows can show shape and texture and make bland pictures come to life.
Like dressing on a salad, shadows might be just the seasoning needed to give your picture visual flavor while helping the viewer understand the shape of a thing or person.