Tag Archives: Depth

Beach views – ideas for a seaside photoshoot

Beach views are really worth planning out.

• Cornish Afternoon •
The great British beach experience is based on our long history of holidays by the sea. The beach views that come with it are worth pursuing too.
(Click image to view large).

Work up a great coastal vista shot.

Beach views can be magnificent and there is always something worth photographing. Sea makes a magical subject in almost any weather. In the right place the views can be magnificent. Here are a few ideas for you to help you get a great photo from your visit to the seaside.

Beach views :: great vista shots

Photographers should be aware of the opportunities for great vista shots. Here are three tips to help you get the shot and the right light…
1. Spotting a rugged coast: Scout out the maps near your destination. Most good maps will show contours and the coastal shape. If you are looking for interesting coastline check out the height of the land beside the sea. Cliffs and hills indicate harder, more resistant rocks. This helps build up a range of rugged landscapes. Also, the more jagged edges the map shows along the sea/beach line the more likely the coast will have an interesting viewpoint.

If you are looking for a place to try out, Google Maps is useful. The Google maps are not very good at showing contours or heights. But the jaggedness of a coast line is shown. If you convert the map to the Google “Earth” view you can get a satellite view of the coast. From that you can get quite a good idea of the terrain.

Google Earth - the satellite view provides a good idea of the type of coast.

• Whitsand Bay Cornwall •
The photo at the top of the page was taken from the position of the red dot. The view was taken along the rugged coast there. You can see from the Google Satellite view how rugged the coast is along there. It’s ideal for lots of different Beach views.


2. Beach views :: Checking out the light:
There are two times a day when the light is best for landscapes and vista shots. These are the Golden Hour just before sundown and the hour around sunrise. There is great light and low sun position at these times of the day. Why is low-sun position good? Because that causes long shadows to be cast off the rocks. Strong contrasts between the dark and light help define edges, shapes and form of the rocks and features. Shadows provide the defining depth in a picture too. Well defined shadows help the eye to see objects as more three dimensional.
• The Okta • The symbol for cloud cover on good weather maps.

• The Okta •
The symbol for cloud cover on good weather maps. A useful symbol to tell you the light conditions when checking for good beach views.
(Attribution: Wikipedia.org Beach views :: Oktas - cloud cover symbols | External link - opens new tab/page)


Of course we are not always able to take our photos at the best times of the day. So how do you check to see what the light will be like when you are there? Of course the starting point is the weather. Most good weather forecast web sites will tell you the amount of cloud cover. You can usually tell how much cloud cover is expected by the number of Oktas (or Octas) shown. The more cloud cover the more diffused the light will be. The actual types of clouds make a difference too – if they are dark and ominous they will make a great backdrop to your beach views. Seascapes really look great with heavy storm clouds. Make sure you have a tripod to hand. Dark clouds mean longer exposures.

3. Sun position: If it is a sunny day you might find the sun position is important. If the sun is up high, cliffs can still be in shadow. It depends exactly where in the sky the sun is at the time you want to take photos. There are websites to help with that too. Check out The Photographers Ephemeris Beach views :: Get the light right with . This really useful website “is a map-centric sun and moon calculator: see how the light will fall on the land, be it day or night, for almost anywhere on earth”. There is a web-based version. But usefully, there are versions for your mobile phone too. You will be able to work out where the sun will be at any time of the day. This will help you work out how to fit your beach view shot into your day.

Putting depth into your beach views shot

The shadows you are able to capture will help your beach views appear to have depth. But a longer distance view, especially in mid-day daylight, will need to have other perspectives. Here are a few ideas for you to introduce a feeling of depth into your shots…

  • Overlaps: When you are looking down a long beach you often find features of the beach itself will overlap in your sight. Mounds of beach stones; sand dunes; different rock layers at beach level; cliff top undulations; variations in the cliff face itself and even local vegetation all help. The ways that these features relate to one-another in the scene give you clues to depth in the photo.
  • Contrasts in colour: The colour of the beach stones, rock, sand and even vegetation can often be used to show variation. As you shoot down the length of the beach these can help to show depth to the eye.
  • Texture variation: The cliffs, dunes, rocks and any seaweed revealed by a low tide provide great variations in texture. Look for ways to bring all these into the shot. Textures often come out by slightly underexposing the shot. That may make the scene look darker than it actually is, but it will bring out the light and dark aspects effectively.
  • Lines of perspective: Strong lines are not often associated with beach views. However there are some strong ones that people often miss. The sea line itself is a strong line. You can look down the length of the beach and use the surf or water line where it meets the beach. Looking down on the beach from cliffs you can use wave lines (see below). If you are on the beach itself you beach views are often enhanced by cliff top lines. Although they often undulate they perspective is still distinct against the sky. On the beach itself, fences and other man-made features (groynes, buildings, paths, roads, beach walls etc.) provide lots of points of perspective you can use.
  • Distant points: If you have something in the distance that your viewer knows to be large they have a distance perspective. In the picture at the top of the page you can see a cloud line. These tiny clouds in the distance give a perspective for the viewer. Other things can be large shops towns on the coast, and even buildings.
• Cornish beach view •

• Cornish beach view •
This view of the beach shown at the top of the page loses some perspective because the distances are reduced. The wave lines in the sea and the rock protruding from the cliffs gives back some of the perspective. The nearness of the grass close-up and smallness of the person and buildings also give depth to the shot.
(Click image to view large).

Check out other pictures of the location for your beach view

The most effective way to plan for your picture is to look up your destination and look for pictures done by other photographers. Try putting your intended location into Google Images. You will be able to pick out features in advance to help you give depth and perspective. You will also be able to see some good places to take shots. Here is the page for the bay where my pictures above were taken. You can see my shots are quite different from the others shown there. There is lots of scope to help you pick out some ideas.
Google Images: Beach views Whitsands Bay Cornwall Google Images: Beach views Whitsands Bay Cornwall | External link - opens new tab/page.

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Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photographer and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

The simplest way to add depth to your pictures

• Young Knights battle at the gates to the castle •

• Young Knights battle at the gates to the castle •
Click image to view large
• Young Knights battle at the gates to the castle • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page
The foreground interest fools the eye into seeing depth. In this case the path line and undulations in the mid-ground also help.

Understanding the power of the foreground…

Is the first step to creating a sense of depth in your pictures. Our eyes use markers like foreground, lines and background to gauge depth in the landscape. If we provide these in a two dimensional picture we fool the eye into seeing depth there too.

Foreground Interest – Video

Bryan Peterson explains in the video how to take a position that brings out the foreground interest. It’s easy. Make sure you shoot past something close when shooting into the scene so you can see a progression of depth… foreground, mid-ground and background. Simple.

adoramaTV  External link - opens new tab/page With Bryan Peterson

Scale

In fact you can use this landscape trick in the studio, or even a small room. Position yourself close to a foreground object and shoot past it into the room or scene. For example, use a chair or a table to occupy a part of the near end of the picture. That gives you a close marker allowing the eye to gauge a distance into the room. Here is an urban shot using the same principle…

Monument

• Monument •
The presence of the coffee cup on the table gives an immediate scale marker to the eye. The rest of the scene has depth because the eye can match the scale differences progressively as it looks into the scene.


The very well known scale of the size of a coffee cup in the picture is the clue to the depth of the rest of the shot. The eye/brain system does the rest. Simple principle – simple composition.

Comments, additions, amendments or ideas on this article? Contact Us
or why not leave a comment at the bottom of the page…

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

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A hidden compositional element to pull the eye into your images

• Honiston Pass in the English Lake District •

• Honiston Pass in the English Lake District •
Overlapping elements in the picture promote a strong sense of distance.
Click image to view large
• Honiston Pass in the English Lake District • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Add depth to your images.

Look at the scene and find ways to show depth. If you want a scene to be convincing you should consider all the compositional angles. In particular the depth. A flat image is not convincing. One of the ways to achieve depth is to incorporate overlap in the scene elements.

What is overlap?

In composition overlap is where one element of the scene is partially obscures another. It is a simple concept and one that creates a marker for the eye. If we see something that is obscured by another thing we have learned from experience that there is a distance between them. The relative sizes of the objects help us to guess what distance separates them.

We cannot immediately tell the relationship between far away or small objects if objects don’t overlap. We don’t have a reference point between them. We can project some sort of guessed perspective and under some circumstances we can guess by the effect of atmospherics (like haze, fog or dust in the air). However, in most cases that takes thinking and time to do. When a viewer is looking into an image they will not take the time to do that sort of guesswork. We need to make the depth immediately obvious, or we will lose the viewer.

The picture above is an example. There are several overlaps. The foreground road and grass verge slightly overlaps the large foreground rock. The latter forms a strong overlap with the wall. The mountain pass disappears into the distance around three spurs that inter-space with one another giving a strong sense of overlap right to the horizon.

Overlap is the key to the immediate recognition of depth in a lot of situations. Landscapes, and often in strange environments like tiny-scale close-ups, are good examples. When you are looking to help the viewer understand the image try and find ways to provide some overlaps so that the image clearly shows relative distance between objects throughout the distance into the shot.

Overlap the villain

Overlap is not always the good guy in an image. There are occasions when it is a source of confusion. For example the image below…

• Overlapping - the deer problem •

• Overlapping – the deer problem •


The picture shows three deer. You might need to take a second look. I did, and I took the picture. You see? Overlap has killed the image.

The most difficult overlaps you will find are the ones where there is little distance between the overlapping elements. In the case of the deer above the merge effect is almost absolute and the resolution of the second deer is spoiled. Its outline merges with the third one at the back. The legs are completely visually entangled. This is a clear confusion for the viewer.

The general rule with overlaps that do not work is clear…
         Avoid overlapping objects that are similar and close.

Unfortunately that often includes people. When they overlap there is frequently confusion. This is especially the case when the clothing is similar (say, all black suits). Another example of problematic overlaps is with silhouettes. The outlines have to be very clear to carry a true sense of character. Otherwise, you cannot tell where one person ends and another begins.

Judgement call

As with so many good things there is a bad side. While overlap is a great help in establishing distance for the eye it can also be the villain. The trick is in understanding how much the eye interprets the similarity of the overlapping element and how much distance lies between them. Your judgement call, as a photographer, is to look at your composition and ask yourself if the viewer will interpret the overlap as help or confusion.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

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Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – Tips and Tricks

• Oil and water •

• Oil and water •
These bubbles of oil in water were shot with a
Canon 50 mm f/1.8 and a +10 close-up filter
Click image to view large
Oil and water • by ArchaeoFrog on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

Easy, budget macro.

Macro or close-up photography is accessible without investing in a pricey macro lens. The first three articles in this series covered techniques for inexpensive macro-level results: close-up lenses, reverse rings, and extension tubes. In this article, I offer suggestions for achieving great-looking results using any of these three techniques.

Choose Your Depth of Field

Depth of field is a term that refers to the area of the image that is acceptably sharp and in focus. Depth of field is a function of many things. Our interest is in three factors. These are aperture, the distance between the camera and the subject, and the orientation of the subject relative to the camera.

Aperture has a direct influence on the depth of field. A wide aperture (smaller f number, such as f/1.8) creates a shallow depth of field. Areas of the image outside of the zone of sharpness fall out of focus quickly. Wide apertures can be used to create bokeh – unsharp sections of the image.

A narrow aperture (larger f number, such as f/22) creates a deep depth of field. The majority of the image is in focus. Narrow apertures are often used by landscape photographers to capture front-to-back sharpness throughout an image.

The distance between the camera and the subject also influences the depth of field. Generally, the closer that you are to your subject, the narrower the depth of the field becomes. This is particularly important when using macro and close-up photography techniques where you need to be physically close to the photographic subject.

• Bokeh penny •

• Bokeh penny •
Penny shot with a Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens and a full set of three, generic extension tubes (7, 14, and 28 mm). The plane of sharpness lies parallel to the flat of the lens. If the plane is not parallel the focus is quickly lost.
Click image to view large
Bokeh penny • By ArchaeoFrog on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

It is also important to consider the orientation of the subject relative to the camera. The depth of field can be thought of as a plane that is parallel to the camera lens. If you can orient yourself so that the subject is parallel to the flat of camera lens, more of your subject will be in focus than if it is at an angle to the camera. In the penny shot above, I tilted the camera lens slightly away from the parallel position. The loss of focus from right to left is obvious.

• Flowers and Depth of Focus •

• Flowers and Depth of Focus •
Click image to view large
• Flowers and Depth of Focus • External link - opens new tab/page

The flower photographs show how depth of field influences an image. Both were taken with the same lens (Canon 50 mm f/1.8), the same aperture (f/1.8), and the same technique (reverse ring). Both images have a shallow depth of field (wide aperture) and are close to the subject. The appearance of the depth of field is very different. The yellow flower (left) is sideways to the camera. Only the closest edges of the petals are within the depth of field and are in focus. The purple flowers center is shot parallel to the camera. The entire center of the flower is within the depth of field and appears in focus.

If you want more of your subject in focus use a narrower aperture. Increase the distance between yourself and the subject, and set the camera (and thus the depth of field) parallel to the subject. If you want less of your subject in focus, you can use a shallow aperture, get in closer to your subject, and orient the camera and depth of field perpendicular to the subject. Try it many different ways and see what works best for what you envision!

The Tripod: With and Without

It is possible to achieve acceptably sharp macro results hand-holding the camera. The majority of images in these articles were shot hand-held. If you have a stationary subject using a tripod will greatly improve the sharpness of your image. A tripod allows you to use longer shutter speeds. This helps you get crisper images in lower light. It also allows a narrower aperture to gain a deeper depth of field. The steadiness of the tripod will significantly reduce hand movement.

If available, also use the Live-View function on your camera to fine-tune your focus. Live-View lets you use your display screen rather than the viewfinder. Many cameras allow you to zoom in on a portion of the image to check the focus.

Without a tripod a good stance improves stability while hand-holding. Create your own tripod with your body by bracing yourself or your camera. In the diptych image below, I am using my elbows for support. The elbows in combination with my feet create a similar a three-point stability like a tripod. In the extension tube article, I demonstrated a similar human-tripod by bracing my elbows on my knees while shooting.

• Simultaneous diptych •

• Simultaneous diptych •
These two images were taken at the same time and show my hand-holding position as well as the image captured. The flower was shot with a reverse-mounted Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens.Click image to view large
• Simultaneous diptych • by ArchaeoFrog on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

This three-point position allows me to lean in and out very slightly with the camera. I can manually find the exact focus that I want in the photograph. Focusing with body movement allows me to place the depth of focus exactly where I want it relative to the subject.

More after this…

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When you are hand-holding practice breathing slowly and pushing the camera shutter button gently, without imparting additional motion to the camera. (More tips on stance)

Play, Combine, and Find What Works for You

You can use extension tubes in combination with either a reverse ring or close-up lens for even more detailed images. However, the working distance between the lens and the subject is narrow and the depth of field is incredibly shallow. With the pennies below, I found it impossible to keep both Mr. Lincoln and the columns of his memorial in focus together, as the columns are slightly raised relative to the surface of the penny.

• Penny diptych •

• Penny diptych •
These pennies were both taken with a Canon 50 mm f/.18 lens and a set of three, generic extension tubes (7, 14, and 28mm). In the left-hand image a +10 close-up lens was added, and in the right-hand image the lens was instead reverse mounted.
Click image to view large
• Penny diptych • By ArchaeoFrog on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

Close-up lenses can also be screwed in to each other for greater magnification. I used both a +4 and +10 close-up lens for the snowflake image below. There is some distortion visible in the image particularly around the edges. I also found it more difficult to focus when looking through both lenses.

• Macro snowflake •

• Macro snowflake •
Snowflakes shot with a Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens and a +4 and +10 close-up lens.
Click image to view large
• Macro snowflake • By ArchaeoFrog on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

The final curtain

The varieties of subjects for macro and close-up photography are endless. I have tried to highlight a variety of them during this series. Flowers, insects, and falling water are perennial favourites, as are coins, Lego figures, and other small objects. Your imagination and creativity are your only limitations. Enjoy!

• Macro snowflake •

• Lego water crown •
This Lego mini-figure and falling water crown were shot using a
Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens and a +4 close-up lens.
Click image to view large
• Lego water crown • External link - opens new tab/page

Articles on Close-Up and Macro Photography
by Katie McEnaney

Part 1 of this series focused on using close-up lens, Part 2 covered reverse rings, and Part 3 explained extension tubes.

Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – close-up rings
Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – Reverse Rings
Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – Extension Tubes
Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – Tips and Tricks (this article)

By Katie McEnaney (contributing author)

Katie is an elementary school teacher in Wisconsin, USA. She is an avid photographer with wide interests. She is always interested in learning more and growing in her photography. Katie is in the third year of her 365 project as ArchaeoFrog (profile)  External link - opens new tab/page. Her 365 project can be found at 365Pproject.org  External link - opens new tab/page and she has a growing body of work on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page.
By Katie McEnaney :: Profile on Google+

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Nine simple guidelines for great interior shots

• Dining Room • For great interior shots follow the guidelines

• Dining Room • For great interior shots follow the guidelines
Click image to view large
• Dining Room • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Photographing interiors is easier with simple rules.

We have all taken interior shots at some time. Indoor subjects are wide ranging. What about when you want to take a picture of the room itself? Here are some simple rules to help you get it right.

Why would you want to take a picture of the room?

Actually there may be many reasons. In the picture above the shot was taken because of the historical interest. It is a record shot. Of course there are lots of other types of shots you might want to take in an interior. Here are some examples…

  • Historical interest
  • Insurance record
  • Design interest
  • Before and after shot
  • House or room for rent
  • Hotel room for holiday snap
  • Hotel room for advertising
  • Colour and décor sampler for decorating plans
  • Sales and marketing photo for building sale purposes
  • Comparison with other places
  • Artistic impressions or interpretation

You get the point. Rooms can have a lot of reasons to be the subject of a photograph.

Some simple guidance…

1. Give yourself a clear purpose for the shot(s): Without such a purpose how will you know the best approach, what to include and exclude and how much of the room to take in. So know why you are doing it and what you hope to gain from the photograph. It helps to write it down.

2. Minimise distractions: As with any type of photography your primary purpose can be affected by distractions in the shot. Think carefully about the purpose of the shot. Remove anything that is discordant or will not add value to that purpose or will distract the eye. Take out objects that are too bright, nothing to do with the shot; something that may confuse the purpose of the shot.

3. Work on the brightness: Remember, the normal lights in a room will probably have a colour cast which will have an impact on the overall colour. If possible use daylight adjusted lights or off camera flash units. Use the flashes to light up specific areas of the room. Highlights like that add to the atmosphere in a room. Be consistent with the natural lighting and any artificial lights that may be in evidence as permanent fittings so the lighting does not look out of place. If you only have the on-camera flash make sure you have it set to a sufficient power to light the whole room. Arrange the furniture so that the light coming from the camera does not leave harsh shadows on the floor in front of you. Flash is inclined to leave such shadows which make the room look very angular and uncomfortable. Rooms that have soft, bright and well lit aspects are more welcoming and give an air of comfort.

4. Windows and doors: These are important parts of a room. Depending on your purpose you may need to show them. If they are looking out onto a bright exterior, or directly to the outside you may have a problem. The outside is quite likely to be much brighter than inside. More than two stops of brightness will almost certainly burn out. This creates a very bright white area of the shot. That’s very distracting. It will take the viewers eye straight away from the subject. One way to counter-act that is to raise the internal light levels so the contrast from inside to out is not so large. That will probably require some additional flash units or other lighting around the room. Alternatively, you could lower the incoming light by closing curtains or the door. However, you light the room remember to use the appropriate white balance settings on your camera. Colour casts can spoil the shot. It is also better to shoot in RAW so you can adjust the colour balance in post processing.

5. Straight lines and verticals: Rooms and interior spaces often look odd in pictures because the straight lines are not straight and the verticals are converging. You must prevent this if your purpose for the shot is to make the room look normal. Use a lens that minimises distortion and set your camera on a level for the shot so it minimises convergence in the upright lines. If you are unable to prevent the lines from bending or converging then make sure you can straighten them in an editing application in post processing. Of course if you are making this photograph for artistic reasons, anything goes.

Langley Library

Use furniture to give the impression of depth.
Place pieces so they look like there is a succession into the depth of the room.

6. Impart depth to the room: Taking just any old shot you will find that the room often looks flat, or lacking in depth. The effect of zoom lenses and maybe an on-camera flash will exaggerate that effect. You can do three things to off-set that effect…

  • Use lines in the room to give the impact of depth as they trend away from you (eg. the table in the top shot above).
  • Create a foreground, mid-ground and far point of the room. Taking a shot with a piece of furniture directly in front of you, something mid-way into the room and something on the far wall will do the trick.
  • Strategic placement of lights down the length of the room will draw the eye down the room too.

7. Adjust comfort levels to suite your purpose for the shot: Every room has what I call a comfort level. It the room is cold and uninviting the comfort level is low. If you intend your room to look like a medical clinic then find ways to give it a low comfort level. Harsh lights, angular furniture, sparse layout… anything that will make it look uncomfortable.

If you want to sell a new home to a home-loving family then you need to raise the comfort level in the room. Soft lights, soft furnishings, rounded corners, bright and inviting cushions… these things help people to feel comfortable. Your pictures should reflect the reason you are taking the picture.

8. Use appropriate lenses: Different lenses have different effects. If you use wide angle lenses they will distort the long dimensions. Use it in portrait view and the lens will appear to make the room look high. If you use a wide angle lens down the length of the room it will make it look long and thin. If you use a zoom lens it will have the effect of foreshortening the room. A 50mm lens will tend to show the room much as the eye would see it. Every room or interior space is going to be interpreted in different ways. The best guidance is to look for a lens that will best exaggerate sizes, or complement dimensions to suit your stated purpose for the shot.

9. People: The inclusion of people in a room can be either a good or bad thing. It all depends on how you want to portray the space and the purpose of the shot. In an entertainment space lots of people enjoying themselves will make the shot good. In a warm, homely room one or two people chilling out and enjoying the comforts will also sell the shot. On the other hand, a record shot should really be about the room, factual and un-distracted.

If it is solely the room you intend to show then it is probably better not to include people.If you do include people then make sure it complements the purpose for the shot.

Interiors are satisfying to photograph

There may be lots of reasons to take pictures of rooms, but that makes it important that you think about what you are trying to portray. If you have a clear purpose for the shot then you can match the layout, furnishings, lighting etc to meet the purpose you have set. Think about layout, depth and finishings. Think about people. There is a lot to consider. However, interior shots can be very satisfying indeed. Practice makes perfect, so work on the points above.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

The nature of shadows – ideas and inspiration

Shadows are most important in photography.

Without shadows the everyday shapes we see would be ill-defined. It’s shadows that help to give shape to the objects we view. They can also be the very essence of the picture. In this post I am going to look at different aspects of shadows as the subject of the picture. They can be extraordinary elements, message carriers, central attractions or complementary features. They are major influences in our art, sight and our everyday lives. I hope you will be inspired by shadows and appreciative of them as a strong compositional element in your photography.

What is a shadow?

Shadows help us to see. They are not an absence of light (darkness). It is the reduced light in a shadow that creates the contrasts that the eye picks out. In fact the camera does too. Where shadows are well defined, and contrast to the other light around them, we see a lot better than when there are few shadows and very bright light. Brightness makes it difficult to see things because the contrasts are absent and we can’t make out edges or three dimensions either. The variations in light intensities across an object tell us about its shape. If everything was in uniform brightness shapes would disappear.

Aesthetics and shadows

Shadow, and its counterpart light, are the medium of our vision. Decoding the light/shadow relationship is as stimulating as the pleasure of touching a sensuous surface; the electric excitement of a tantalising taste; being immersed in a powerful smell, or mellowing in the caress of a musical experience. Little wonder that as one of our five senses our understanding of light and shadow is also a deep part of our understanding of beauty and ugliness.

Seeing shadow

Of course our eyes sometimes misinterpret shadows and we make mistakes about them as with anything else. So it’s fun to consider the implications of false statements in shadow. In this first picture the shadow as the carrier of a message, but also the shadow as illusion. Shadow views of this sort bring out dark emotions and “shadowy” thoughts, but are also great fun artistically…

366 • 65 • Shadow monster by Pragmagraphr, on Flickr

366 • 65 • Shadow monster by Pragmagraphr, on Flickr
366 • 65 • Shadow monster by Pragmagraphr, on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

In his notes on this picture the author says… “I have a lot of school work hanging over me like a shadow.” The visual pun is interesting and conveys a great message.

We love it when something appears as one thing and turns out as another. One of the endearing attributes of shadow is the other side of the visual story. In this next picture the lovely shape and bright eyes of this animal convey it’s essential “catness”. But the shadow is something different. The author says… “Her shadow makes me think about a French bulldog – with a tail” … shadows easily take on different meanings.

Flibberty and Her Shadow by peter_hasselbom, on Flickr

Flibberty and Her Shadow by peter_hasselbom, on Flickr
Flibberty and Her Shadow by peter_hasselbom, on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

Of course shadows can be so much more than just a passive message. In this next picture the message is clear and the visual pun means so much to an English-speaking person. A clever use of shadow as the subject.

Shadow of 'a doubt' by Jon Downs, on Flickr

Shadow of ‘a doubt’ by Jon Downs, on Flickr
Shadow of ‘a doubt’ by Jon Downs, on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

While the subject of a picture may not be the shadow there is still an important complimentary part to play by the shadow. The cobalt blue of the shadow in the next picture creates a wonderful tonality. The shape of the object is defined by the shadow, but it is the blueness that makes the statement. The author acknowledges that fact by his title…

If you can write a visual story with your photograph you pull the viewer directly into the shot. In this next picture the shadow and its disembodied juxtaposition on the ladder brilliantly conveys a set of meanings that we, the viewer, impose. The interest is the simplicity of the picture and yet the complexity of the possible meanings… fireman, escapee, workman, who is he? The interpretations are endless…

Shadow Climbing the Ladder at Sunset by S@ilor, on Flickr

Shadow Climbing the Ladder at Sunset by S@ilor, on Flickr
Shadow Climbing the Ladder at Sunset by S@ilor, on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

Shadow and silhouette are closely related. The dark-side of a silhouette is the result of blocked light, as is the shadow. Normally the statement made by a silhouette is in its shape. I like this next picture because the silhouette is betrayed by the darkness behind it. The hard light and low light-source has lengthened and strongly defined the shadow creating a strong subject. It has become all the more threatening because the silhouette is only partially seen. What is there – is there a threat? Are we being menaced by our imagination misinterpreting the shadow… This is a clever interplay of light and of mood. Nicely done…

Shadow. by David Giron, on Flickr

Shadow. by David Giron, on Flickr
Click image to view large
Shadow. by David Giron, on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Shadows can convey much more than just mood. They create a picture themselves, but in a minimalist way. The two dimensional aspect of shadow is only partially compensated for by shape. We know that we can so easily misinterpret a shadow. So it is a relief when the meaning is implied without threat or misinterpretation.

Shadows and intimacy are frequently associated. Above, the closeness of the characters shows intimacy. In the next picture the intimacy of the boudoir is so strong that the viewer is relieved by the pattern of shadows to redirect the mood.

Shadows by Pablo Miranzo

Shadows by Pablo Miranzo.


The author says this is one of a series of pictures intended to contrast light and dark and is in black and white to simplify the composition. Oddly enough the composition is simplified by that, but complicated by the opposing mood settings. An interesting picture of mixed tensions.

In this next, the interplay between the textures has become important. While the shadow is a major part of the subject, it is not the only subject. This is a strong pattern shot but is very uniform across the shot until you allow yourself to be drawn in. Often pattern shots have some compositional element to break the pattern, something that draws the eye. Wood grain and the subtle variations in the rhythm of the boards create micro textures and variation providing relief from the pattern. It is that which draws you in.

Texture is an exciting aspect of any picture. It is created by the subtle tonal variations of light and shadow at the micro-level in the picture. If you see a texture and it convinces you that you would feel the texture if you touched it then the picture has convincingly been created as an image in your mind. In this next picture the image I see is all texture. The wonderful curve of the stair rail and its counterpart, the twisted shadow, combine to create great depth in this picture. The combination gives you the feeling that you can reach in and touch… A great image.

The stairs in the next image are pretty minimalist in themselves. However, the elaborate pattern of light and shadow created by them is exquisite. It is a wonderful example of how shadows transform a picture. In this case the shadows have turned the purely mechanical geometry of the stairs into a complex of pattern and curves. It is a wonderful play-off between the simplicity of one and complexity of the other…

Pulling it all together

The shadow as a subject is clearly a compositional feature. It adds to the texture of the shot too. The clever use of shadow can also add a message and/or impart mood as well. Sometimes though, it all just comes together. If you can combine mood, subject, story, composition and texture you have really made the grade. Your picture comes alive in the mind of the viewer. You have truly created an image. To do all this using just shadow is a clever and precious creation. I think this next image is one such example…

Using shadow as a subject is challenging but worthwhile photographic pursuit. Shadow gives you all the essential elements of a good photograph but supplies it with simplicity and meaning if done well. There are untold interpretations and subjects out there for you to tackle. I hope that I have inspired some new thinking on the subject.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

A great range of simple resources for landscape photography

Early Morning in Richmond Park - Landscapes cover a wide range of different types of photography

• Early Morning in Richmond Park •
Landscapes cover a wide range of different types of photography

Click image to view large.
• Early Morning in Richmond Park • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Landscapes provide us with some of the most enduring images.

Yes, and they perhaps present the greatest challenge too. Get it wrong, the scene looks flat and uninteresting. Get it right, the wow factor hits the viewer.

The principles and concepts behind landscapes

When we talk about landscapes we can actually be talking about a wide range of types of photographs – usually taken in the countryside. Of course that is pretty nebulous. But it is sensible to talk about the sort of principles that apply to the construction of a good landscape photograph and then relate them to the picture you are going to take.

I have compiled a list of links below. If you follow through on all these together you get a great introduction to landscape photography…

  1. The Third Most Important Piece of Kit
  2. Seeing the Quality of Light
  3. Easy introduction to ‘visual elements’ in photographs
  4. Simple ‘Principles’ of photographic composition
  5. Don’t Stick the Horizon Line in the Middle!
  6. Rule of Thirds
  7. Landscape loves – do you know why you are photographing this scene?
  8. Ten great tips for photographing landscapes
  9. The easy way to give depth to landscapes
  10. Simple ideas about perspective in photography

More after this…

Mastering landscapes

Like all photography mastering landscapes takes time and learning. It especially needs time. I have on occasion taken many return trips to one location, and, many hours there each time to get the shot I wanted. On the other hand, sometimes it all just comes together. That is both the joy and fun of landscape photography… you never know what you are going to get out of a shoot until you have seen the shots afterwards.

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photographer and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training courses ing digital photography.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.