Don't blame Anne for MY poor photos though. Half the time I'm just trying to keep The Boonga from licking whatever awful things she finds on my unswept floor, much less trying to get her to pose.
On Today’s Episode of “Dark Shadows……”
By Anne Oliver
So originally I was going to use as my title for this article the cliched (albeit true) statement that it’s “All About The Light.” Ask any photographer what the most important thing to learn is, and that’s what they will tell you. And of course I agree. But what I want to do is bring you over to the Dark Side...invite you to enter the Shadow World...explore the dark recesses of….OK, OK, enough cliches and bad puns. But the fact is that your photography will improve markedly when you not only look for the light, but also use the shadows to provide shaping, dimension and depth to your images, whether they are portraits, still lifes or macro shots. And you probably already have what you need to achieve these amazing shadows - a window!
Window light is wonderful. Let’s call it “Wonderful Window Light,” heretofore referred to as “WWL.” (In part because I’m working hard to be clever, and mostly because I don’t want to type “Wonderful Window Light” over and over. Yup, I am lazy.)
But you can’t just plop your subject down in front of a window and start snapping away. First, find the right kind of WWL. The main thing you want is INDIRECT light. Indirect light is soft and even. If you see bright sunbeams on the floor or those enchanting little dust motes flying around, you’ll need to modify that strong light coming in. Drape a sheer piece of white fabric across the window, and you’ll have exactly what you need. Second-story windows are fabulous, because they are often not blocked by trees or other structures. And you know you’re a photography nerd when what excites you about a hotel room is not the bed or the fancy shower but the huge windows that allow massive quantities of WWL to illuminate the room! (A little further down you’ll see some hotel windows that made me a very happy traveller).
Next, consider where you will place not just your subject, but yourself. And since we are talking about shadows, place your subject at an angle to the window. 45 degrees is the most common recommendation, but you can start there and slightly adjust them to achieve different looks. If you place the subject parallel to the window (in other words, with the window directly in front of them), the light will be flat with no shadows, and that’s not what we want. We don’t want “Boring Flat Light” (BFL)...we want WWL, remember?
Now to place you, the photographer. Usually I am crammed up against the window or the wall, and it’s hilarious to see, let me tell ya. Here is a diagram of the basic 45-degree set-up:
And here is a pull back of the 45-degree set up in action.She was sitting on the white stool, and I was standing just next to the fan.
And a photo from that setup. Notice how the shadows create soft curves around her cheeks and mouth?
Once you place your subject at an angle, play around with rotating them away from the window and then having them face the window more directly (although not too much - you don’t want to turn them so much you get BFL instead of WWL). As they move, watch the catchlights in their eyes and how the shadows fall differently across their features as you move them. Even tilting their head one way or another, as well as tilting their chin up or down, will subtly change the shadows. Let me show some examples of this…
Here she is turned slightly more away from the window, which results in stronger shadows on one side of the face. Depending on the quality and strength of your light, those shadows can be really strong and dramatic or more subtle.
Here you can see that having her tilt her head in the other direction changes the shadows slightly.
And here I had her move a little closer to the window. She’s also closer to the wall, which resulted in stronger, more defined shadows behind her.
If you’ve ever struggled with your Black and White conversions, it could be because you used flat lighting. Images with dimensional shadows make for stronger BW images.
And WWL and good shadowing also makes for great still lifes. We travelled to Seattle recently, and I was so happy to open that hotel door and see a wall of windows. (You might also be a photography nerd if you talk about WWL too much. Evidently I might have expressed my desire for WWL a few times before we arrived, because when we walked in the room the first thing my daughter said was, “Hey look, Mom, you got your big windows!!”)
This was a very “make-do” kind of shot. I had purchased this lovely handmade vase and asked the woman if I could keep the little flowering branch she had in it for display. I used my husband’s leather iPad case on which to place the vase and the inside of an open book for the background. But I applied the same principle of putting the scene at an angle to the window and then moving it around for the desired amount of light vs. shadows.
You can use WWL for macro shots, too. Here is my makeshift setup - my suitcase with a towel thrown over it, and the flower wrapped in a towel and placed in the ice bucket, LOL. But all that aside, I still kept in mind the placement of the flower at an angle to the window in order to give me some soft shadowing, which gives the petals depth.
And here are some of the resulting shots using that setup.
So I hope all of you get a chance to play around with WWL to achieve some lovely shadows in your photography, regardless of what your subject is. Your dark side (and your photos) will thank you!
Just dying to see more of Anne? Here is one set of photos of hers that I love in particular. But really, you can't go wrong checking out her entire website!!!!!!
Thank you so much Anne! You're the best!
More posts in the "Tips for Improving Your Photography" Series:
Letting Your Kids Call the Shots: Tips on Getting Great Photos of Your Kids by Meg Kelly Anderson
Food Photography: Helping Food Look as Good as it Tastes by Valerie Laramee
Five Tips for Better Images: Without Buying Stuff! by Megan Love
Getting Your Kids in the Picture: The Subtle Differences Between Bribes, Threats, and Good Natured Cajoling by me, but guest posted on Megan Love's blog which is having technical difficulties and I will either repost here or link here soon!
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