Shadows; Their Cause and Cure


More than half a lifetime ago I attended an art college where I studied photography. Now things may have gotten better since then but I somehow doubt it. Most of the students, myself included, were at college to avoid work and for the social life of a student. Hey what is youth for?

In my two years I was shown a dazzling array of techniques but was not required nor even inclined to master any of them.

One of the subjects was lighting. I don’t know exactly when I first came across the false idea I am about to tell you about but I was baffled for decades about the subject of lighting, and avoided it as much as possible, because I didn’t know what to do about shadows.

We were shown some examples of lighting techniques and the lecturer told us that placing a light in a certain location would make it “throw shadows” on a part of the subject.

It is a common enough expression, even amongst photographers, but it is entirely false and is misleading if the listener is not of a bent to do some experimentation. At the time I wasn’t into experimenting with lighting. Why not? Because it “wasn’t natural”. Oh the idiocies of my youth.

Shadows aren’t caused they are merely revealed.

Shadow areas are areas that are not lit or are not lit as brightly as other areas we call lit areas.

I was under the impression that if I lit a portrait subject from one side the light source itself would create shadows on the opposite side of the face. I reasoned that some of those would be ugly and that using another light source to fill those shadows would inevitable create more shadows somewhere else which would in turn need filling ….

A couple of years ago I decided it was high time I really found out what lighting was about. It was obvious from studying photographs that other photogs were able to understand and control light. My savior came in the form of the Strobist website and David Hobby. By following the wealth of instructional posts he has there I was finally able to get a grip on the subject.

It is often said that one could spend a lifetime mastering the subject of lighting, and that may be true as far as the variety of different situations to light are concerned, but there are some basic principles that can be learned in a few days or weeks of practice. Mr Hobby revealed these and I am very grateful to him, hence this post.

Learning through his site completely revitalized me as a photographer to the point where, after a 25 year break, I am back in the business.

Posted in Lighting

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *