Get Creative with Shadow Photography : 3 of the best ways to use shadows creatively

7/23/2012 11:39:27 AM

Use candle-lit shadows as a focal point to create some simple but effective still-life shots

Description: Find the right object to create your shadows and they can wake a really interesting focal point to an image

Find the right object to create your shadows and they can wake a really interesting focal point to an image

What you’ll need…

Digital camera


We used…

Olympus PEN E-PM1

Tea lights with candle holders

You could try…

Any digital camera

Camera phone

What you’ll learn…

How to shoot shadows creatively

Description: Finding the right object to capture is key to the success of this project. These candle holders didn’t work because they didn’t create enough shadow to shoot

Finding the right object to capture is key to the success of this project. These candle holders didn’t work because they didn’t create enough shadow to shoot

Photography is essentially capturing the light in front of you, and where is light, there are shadows. For many subjects and styles of photography, shadows can be a photographer’s worst nightmare. However, they can also be used to creative effect, in turn producing an excellent image.

Silhouettes are perhaps in photography. They can make for very striking images, by placing your subject in front of a large light source and then exposing for that light. Getting an effective image then fully relies on the silhouette shape you create.

However, as well as capturing shadows within your photos alongside your main subject, you can even try and compose your shot so that the shadow is the main focus of the image, which can make for a very interesting and abstract photographs.

The sun’s natural light will undoubtedly create the most dramatic and therefore interesting shadows. However, as well as utilising the light available, it is possible to create some effective shadows using other light sources. Simply using illumination such as candles, you can set up a simple still life creating your own shadows as the main subject in your shot.

When used in the right way, shadows can make very unique photo compositions, away from what some photographers may usually consider when planning a shot. Here we’ll show you how shadows don’t have to spoil an image, but can turn an ordinary shot into something very creative.

3 of the best ways to use shadows creatively


Placing your subject against a strong light and metering for the light will produce a simple outlined silhouette. This works very well for an interesting photograph.

Description: Silhouettes


As a subject

Intentionally include a strong imposing shadow in to your shot to make it a focal point of the scene. This can also create atmosphere and enhance the mood of a shot.

Description: As a subject

As a subject


Harsh shadows can often ruin portraits, but when used effectively they can highlight the different features of a person’s face and add a different edge to your portrait shots.

Description: Portraits


Photograph shadows – get creative with candles

Step 1 - Set up your shot

Using some simple candles and patterned holders, arrange them on a suitable surface ready to light. Once the candles are lit you may want to tweak your composition depending on the shadows, so be prepared to adjust their positioning.

Description: Step 1

Step 1

Step 2 – switch to Shutter Priority

As we are shooting in dark conditions, your camera will automatically want to use certain settings. Switching over to Shutter Priority gives us control of how long the shot is taken for. Use a speed of a least 1/40sec to ensure there is no camera shake

Description: Step 2

Step 2

Step 3 – set a high ISO

To ensure the sensor captures enough light, set a high ISO of around 800. This may need to be adjusted depending on the outcome of the show, but will allow you to use a fast-enough shutter speed to avoid getting blurry images from camera shake.

Description: Step 3

Step 3

Step 4 – turn the flash off

Due to the dark scene your camera will automatically try and fire the flash. The flash power will light the entire scene, in turn overpowering the shadows and making for a bad shot. Ensure the flash is set to off to avoid running your photo.

Description: Step 4

Step 4

Step 5 – select the focus point

Once you are happy with your settings, you will need to set your focus point. The candle flame is where the eyes will naturally look, so focusing on it will ensure it is sharp as well as allow the camera to meter correctly for the brightest part of the shot.

Description: Step 5

Step 5

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