One project I worked on in photography school is how to use shadows as elements in a composition to direct the viewer’s eye around the image or add something to the story. It was a good way to learn how to “see” the darker areas of a scene as integral to the overall view and place them accordingly. As in the prior post about the tree’s shadow I sometimes try and focus on the shadows rather than the subjects casting them, leaving the actual subject to the viewer’s imagination.
In the above image the shadows serve two purposes along this line. First, they darken the water in the pool that is reflecting the bright sky, drawing the eye upward from the image bottom toward the benches and ceramic piece on the grass. Second, the shape of the shadows on the pool’s wall hint at the trees behind me that are casting the shadows, adding to the sense of the place as a garden in the woods. The gap in the trees allowing the sunlight through to illuminate the pool’s rocks in the lower part of the image helps define the pool’s depth and helps breakup the darker area at the bottom of the image.
Transparency film has a dynamic range similar to digital sensors so on a scene like this I’m pushing the medium’s ability to capture detail in the shadows and the bright clouds. This is probably about 6 stops of dynamic range and about the limit. I could bring out some detail in the shadows in Photoshop but then would negate the reason for them in the first place! Not all shadows are bad in photographs – some are just placed poorly.