Shadow games – Create unique photos with shadows

Shadow games – Create unique photos with shadows

“We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates” Tanizaki Jun’ichirō – Japanese author.

In photography, light and shadow belong together – because where there is light, there are shadows. The interplay of light and shadow is particularly important for image contrast. Only shadows create depth and expression in photos. But you can also abstract the shapes of an object. The type of lighting can contribute to the spatial impression of the photo.

Shadow is therefore not only a lack of light, but can also be used creatively in photography. The creative shadow effects can create surreal images and intensify feelings that a picture should convey. The possible applications and subjects are manifold – from everyday objects to people. In this article we will give you inspiration for creative shadow plays and tips on how to illustrate them graphically.

Image composition and light

Take plenty of time to choose your subject. Because a successful image composition is crucial for shadow plays. This can direct the viewer’s gaze into specific areas and lends the photo special depth. A bright image area, framed by shadows, can direct the viewer’s attention. In addition, you should decide in advance whether one or more shadows should be the focus of the motif. Crossing shadows, for example, can develop interesting patterns, but can also quickly cause too much restlessness in the image. Furthermore, black-and-white shots enhance the contrast of light and shadow and provide for more expression and a special mood of the image.

For a perfectly staged shadow, the direction from which the light comes and the type of light source are important. Not every light direction and every light source is suitable for every image. Exposure time and aperture settings can vary for indoor and outdoor shots. So working with bracketing is a good way to make sure you don’t miss the perfect picture.

A good guide for photographing shadow plays is the histogram. It helps you to arrange the darkest and brightest image effects on the images and thus avoid clipping. Clipping is the process by which the digital image sensors change to pure white and light or dark areas no longer have a pattern. However, in shadow photography, there can be problems with the dynamic range of the subject. For this reason, it is advisable to take the photos in RAW format. This will give you some leeway in correcting and editing the photos to increase the dynamic range of the subject afterwards.

Camera setting: 1/1500s, f/5.6, ISO100
Camera setting: 1/1500s, f/5.6, ISO100

Outdoor shadow plays

For outdoor shots, it is necessary to work with the existing light of the sun. Depending on the lighting conditions, weak and strong shadows can be created, which can act as a picture motif themselves.

In the morning and evening hours, the sunlight falls flat onto the earth, creating long shadows in oblique light. Especially in the Golden Hour, which produces long and dynamic shadows, you can take unique photos with warm hues. But the winter months are also advantageous for shadow photography, as the sun is also low during the day and therefore casts long shadows. In the autumn and winter time, other interesting shadow patterns appear in forests or in fog. If the weak sunlight falls through a leaf canopy of a forest or through fog, a beautiful play of light and shadow is created.

Indoor shadow games

Shadow plays do not only have to be made outside, but can also be photographed well indoors with the help of artificial light sources.

The direction of light and the light source are particularly important when taking photographs of indoor shadow plays. Dark and sharp shadow edges are created with the help of light sources that are far away or smaller. Blurred and brighter shadow edges, on the other hand, are created with a large and near light source. Multiple light sources from different light directions superimpose the shadows, creating targeted dynamics in the image.

The main focus of indoor shadow plays is on conscious experimentation with light sources and light directions. When using a fast lens, it is advisable to increase the sensitivity of the sensor, i.e. the ISO value. But beware: If the ISO value is too high, this can lead to qualitative restrictions and image noise!

Camera setting: 1/125s, f/2.8, ISO200
Camera setting: 1/125s, f/2.8, ISO200


Creative shadow effects can be created using oblique light falling on smaller objects. The image created by the shadow source can easily be changed by manipulating the angle of incidence and the light. By enlarging or distorting the subject, i.e. the shadow source, using this technique, a change beyond recognition can be achieved. In addition, the object with its shadow can also be depicted on the photo. Thus, shadows can not only create mass and depth on photos, but can also be staged playfully and creatively. Everyday objects such as cutlery forks, porcelain and the like are suitable for photographic works of art, but nature also offers numerous motif possibilities.

Have fun experimenting!

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