It's week 37 of my personal photography project and the subject is "shadows". I had plans. Big plans. The day after the subject was announced it started to rain and we haven't seen the sun since and my time is up. My blog post is due and I've not missed a week yet so it was off to the studio for Plan B; how to improve your own photography by managing shadows.
The Set Up
Don't be intimated because it's a photography studio, this set up is as simple as it gets. The large box to the left marked "Window Light" is in fact a continuous light source (i.e. not a flash) so in this example it's acting like it's label; it's my "window light". The reflector opposite it is bouncing some of that light back toward my subject to fill in the shadows a bit because there's no light on that side of my studio. We DO want some shadow because photographs are two dimensional, shadows give us shape and convey additional dimension. Without shadows an image appears "flat" and lacks depth and shape. Too much shadow and we loose detail, hence why I added the reflector. Anything large and white / silver can be used as a reflector; a simple piece of white foam core board from the craft store, a white sheet, I've even used the silver sun shield from my car!
Closer, Closer, Closer...
Ok, here's a tiny bit of science for you, but it's not hard so stick with me! A broad light source lessens the shadows, reduces contrast and suppresses textures (think about wrinkles, do we really want to increase the shadows on those?). With a broad light source, light rays hit your subject from more directions which tends to fill in shadows and give more even illumination to the subject.
Taking that one step further I want you to repeat after me: "The closer the light source, the softer the light. The father the light source, the harder the light". If I ever get anything tattooed on my arm, it will be this. Move a light closer and you will make it bigger, which is also broader. Move it farther away and you will make it relatively smaller and therefore narrower. Sometimes we may want hard light for artistic choices but typically with people and pets we want soft, flattering light that reduces the contrast of the shadows.
So here in my simple set up which you can do at home yourself, I've moved my light source far away from my subject and see the results? There are hard shadows and Ginger doesn't look very soft and fluffy. She looks "hard" in this SOOC ("straight out of the camera" - no editing) image.
TIP: moving your subject further away from the background will also help reduce background shadows. I moved the table very close to my background wall on purpose as an example of how that can increase unwanted shadows.
Same Set Up, But Closer
The exact same set up only I rolled the light much closer to Ginger and look at the results! That's my soft and fluffy girl in this SOOC image, no editing, I promise! I did have to adjust my exposure because of the inverse square law of light, but that's a whole other topic for another blog post. Just know that because the light was so much closer to Ginger, there was more of it because there was less distance for it to "fall off" so I had to adjust my exposure to compensate for it (see the image before for what happened when I took a picture without adjusting the exposure).
As mentioned above, here's the SOOC image when I moved the light closer to Ginger and took a frame before I adjusted the exposure.
Adding a Little Love
Every digital image needs to be "developed". What? Yes! Digital images need to be finished and that's were your professional photographer's artistic vision comes into play. It's always important to get it "right in the camera" but even the best images can always benefit from a "little love" in post processing. This simple image of a dog on a table with a white background is enhanced with a bit of toning, sharpening and other adjustments.
Now you can't move your windows in your house, so move your subject closer to them! Understanding this principle really changed my photography and I hope that you'll try some of these suggestions out for yourself and see if you notice a difference. With a few simple changes you can really boost the quality of your own images at home. Now for more on shadows let's visit with Nancy Kieffer Photography serving Central New York, the Adirondacks and beyondand then continue clicking on the link at the bottom each post for an around the world tour of stunning pet photography.
Tracy Allard of Penny Whistle Photography is a Certified Professional Photographer with the organization Professional Photographers of America; a designation held by fewer than 2,500 photographers nationwide and a hallmark of consistency, technical skill, artistry and professionalism. Penny Whistle specializes in both natural light and studio photography providing pet, couple and engagement, family and high school senior portraits as well as corporate headshots and commercial photography in her studio located in old town Carrollton as well as out on location in Coppell and surrounding communities in Dallas – Fort Worth, Texas.