Photography project: Shadows

With the coming of harsh summer light, here’s something you CAN do with it.

Japan’s summers kill me. God knows how the British ever managed to colonise Asia. We just aren’t built for humidity and baking temperatures. Perhaps I just need a punkah-wallah, to fan me as I write my blog postings.

But seriously, coping photographically with harsh, directly-overhead sunshine is usually done very simply; one goes out in the morning or the evening and not when the sun is washing out all the detail with its contrasty middle-of-the-day light.

However, one thing you do get in such light is superbly detailed shadows and standing on my balcony today, looking down into the road below, I decided to brave the baking sun and shoot a few pics for you to see.

I didn’t go anywhere fancy just around the neighbourhood and despite a bit of an overload of bicycle-related umbra, I didn’t have any trouble finding some great shadow detail.

There’s a few ways of going about these sorts of pictures:

  • Shoot the shadow and leave the thing creating it out of the shot.
  • Shoot a piece of the animal, vegetable or mineral casting the shadow and include the shadow as well.
  • Shoot the whole subject and its shadow.

However you choose to go about it, here are a few tips:

  • Try over-exposing the surface the shadow is falling onto; it makes for some interesting effects and you get greyer shadows too.
  • Go the opposite way, and slightly under-expose the subject.. giving you strong shadows. Be careful, though, not to lose the impact of the shadow as under-exposing the surface may well cause the shadow to blend with its background.
  • Try big apertures and shallow depth-of-field, to abstract the shadow and its background or create focus on the shadow and not the subject or the surface.
  • Spot metering is best, as you can meter off of the surface and the shadow and then decide where to pitch your exposure to get the best of both or to get the darkest shadows but keep them defined against a perfectly or gently over-exposed background. Averaging metering systems are unlikely to give good results. The scenes you are looking at are, after all, not ‘average’; they contain extremes of brightness and  shadow.

It’s all great fun and after half-an-hour of walking around this afternoon I was finding great shadows everywhere I looked. By the end of the excercise, I couldn’t stop seeing shadows or looking for them.

Here’s my gallery. Give it a go. If you have to be out in the stark sunshine of the middle of the day, do something useful with it and shoot the shadows.

About Japanorama

Japanorama is run by British professional photographer, Alfie Goodrich, and provides practical photography teaching in Tokyo. Weekly workshops, group and one-to-one lessons bring together photographers of all ages and abilities.

We also welcome submissions of photos and articles for this site, so please get in touch via our contact page. Thanks.

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