5 Ways to Put Shadows to Work in Your Photos

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Get ready to throw some shade … into your photography, that is. Shadows are totally deserving of a spot in your snaps. They can add dimension, create an artsy vibe, and instantly upgrade a snoozy composition. Plus, their unending variety — they can be shallow or long, hard or soft-edged, simple or complex — makes them super fun to explore. These five ideas are all the inspo you need to start shooting.

Make shadows the main subject

Want to focus on the shadow? Go all in: Including the source of it can actually distract from the shot. In the photo above, taken in the sand dunes of Turpan, China, it was easy to keep the objects out of the shot since everyone was on a camel. If you're trying for a shadow selfie, though, it's a little trickier. Do your best to position the camera within your shadow so you can't see it.

Add an interesting foreground

Wide angled shots are great, but sometimes the foreground is empty or boring. Unless, of course, there's a cool shadow! The diagonal one below gives this pic some more interest, while still getting the whole building in frame. It also helps lead the viewer's eye to the old man sitting on a bench. Did you spot him?

Watch your back

Sometimes in order to capture the scene, you need to give the viewer a sense of what's behind you. Think about places like historic squares: You're surrounded by buildings but can only photograph one side. Including shadows in your shot can give a sense of what's behind the camera — in this case, the outline of the buildings. (Just make sure the light is behind you and casting a shadow long enough to fit in the frame.)

Create more depth

A photograph is a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional world — that's why snaps that manage to convey a sense of depth are so intriguing to look at. Shadows are your friend here! This photo, taken in Arbanassi, Bulgaria, already has a sense of depth due to the road leading away. But the shadow from the sign and the pole provide even more. This shadow also draws the eye nicely along the scene, almost providing a frame for the road.

Exaggerate!

Shadows can be a fraction of their source’s length or many times their length. The size depends on the angle of the light creating the photo and the angle of the camera used to capture the scene. Enter a low sun and a wide-angle lens, and you can give your photo subject an exaggerated shadow that makes the shot much more interesting.

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5 Ways to Put Shadows to Work in Your Photos