Shadow Dancing

Light and shadow in the same image, equals contrast. Contrast (drama) is the photographer’s friend, but it can be a love, hate relationship.

Creating our own shadows (contrasts) can be a lot of fun. Studio photography for fun or profit, gives us the opportunity to “play god” (small g). Two flowers, a water bottle, and a mirror is all I needed for a fun winter’s evening. I did use two studios lights, of the old-fashioned variety. Reflectors on light stands, with two daylight balanced bulbs. Working with flash is more problematic than with continuous lighting like you see here, although digital (this was film), allows us to check our image and redo if necessary.1absractstudio35mm

Extreme sidelight on the edge of a Colorado canyon, was exactly what caused me to stop and make this photo. Without the mystery of the shadows, this was a fairly ordinary scene, at least for Colorado. This was 1986 with film.  I say was, because it is currently a digital image taken from a film image. I had a pal who came from the days of film who could never quite understand that once film is scanned or copied, the resulting image is in fact a digital photo. 2dsc_1170

This late afternoon scene in The Badlands of South Dakota carries with it no small amount of drama, although you can actually see into the shadows. Drama, but not a lot of mystery. The light is warm and saturated because of the low angled light. That low angle also creates texture on the rock/earth, via tiny shadows.


What about the contrast of high noon? This image was made in Monument Valley Arizona/Utah at midday. When you get one day of your life for great places, you just keep shooting all day.

I do think the shadows on this rock form look nice even at noon.


Still, what would it look like if the light was a little more even, and there were details in the shadows? There is some detail in the shadow area, but for it to become visible to the eye, the exposure needs to be brought up dramatically. If you do that, the entire scene will lose its richness, and its color. I made a determination to create an overexposed copy in the editing process,  and then another one which was slightly underexposed. I then combined all three of them with HDR software. The resulting image is below.5dsc_2537b__c

Shadows in the shade?

There can be shadows even in the shade. As much as shade is in fact a cast shadow, there can still be little shadows within the shaded area. If the images below, which are of two parts of a canyon wall in New Mexico, were photographed in overcast light rather than in shade, those walls might even be more saturated in color, but if that subdued daylight was low enough and flat enough, there would be no texture from shadows. You can see the shadows below and between the portions of rock that stick out, and those shadows, are caused by the sunlight outside the canyon as it bounces back into the shadows.6dsc_2439


Saturation and shadows (like The Badlands image) combined, can create mouth-watering color and drama, even with only dead branches and a distant rock formation. This photo was made in Arches N.P., Utah. If you look closely, you can see shadows all over that twisted, gnarly old tree. I think those shadows along with the late day color of light, make this picture special rather than ordinary.8dsc_1644

Semi overcast. When there are clouds above, but they are thin enough that the light of the sun can still penetrate and create warm light, it can saturate the land, and water.

This  rather unspectacular location in southern Wisconsin still attracts your attention in warm light, even with  weak shadows.9bong-3

The above picture is an old stock image that has been the cover of a magazine. The picture would be unlikely to grace the cover of any publication today. In those days my files were full of….well almost everything. This photo said exactly what the editor wanted to say, despite my attempts to sell him a more spectacular and artsy image.

We return to the Badlands again and in this scene, the slightly “clouded” light casts only weak shadows into the scene.  It was made late in the day, and that brings warmth to the land.10bl8

This leaf and snow/ice picture is another example of high bright light, but no direct sun. The dark areas between the ice are not shadows but water which has dark rock well below its surface.11moons-064

Sometimes sidelight can become a little too harsh. This northern Wisconsin autumn scene is (for me) a bit too contrasty. Groups of leaves can make for a busy picture when they are in bright sidelight.  The little shadows between the leaves do make the image dimensional. I made some front-lit images of this lake and trees as well and I think they suit my preferences better, but we all have our own likes and dislikes.12egrets-fall-219

This does not appear to be a particularly shadowy scene. But it really is. The foreground, the rock (Shiprock, New Mexico), the ground fog and the clouds all carry shadows. Obviously the warm light of sunrise has a lot to do with this picture but those shadows, as they dance around and on the rock, help give the photo some front to back dimension.14dsc_7209


Let’s get away from “shadow dancing” for a moment and look back at the winter sunrise picture of the wetland (Bong State Rec. Area, WI) that was used by a magazine. That image shows that true stock photographers need, or at least used to need lots of variety in their files. For that reason, I had many file categories in order to have a better chance to provide what they wanted, when they wanted it. One category was called traces and signs and it included fallen feathers, abandon nests, skeletal material, paw and bird tracks, and anything that would show that a living breathing animal had once been there. That included, believe it or not, some animals that I found dead.

Another such category was waves. All kinds of waves. Crashing violently, some gently swishing. Some at sunrise and some on cloudy days. I happened to come across the images below in my digital files, and at first wondered why I did this. These images were made at Lake Superior but they are hardly my most spectacular or interesting wave shots. I probably made them because I had never made wave photos at that location before. Hoping that some photo editor (early 2,000s) might need them. I am still waiting. There is another purpose though. I was a photographer and most of the time when there wasn’t something great to make pictures of, I made pictures anyway, cause that’s what photographers do.15egrets-fall-134



Happy Trails,                                                                                                                                                  Wayne


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