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In praise of shadows - Part 2

J. Norman Reid (Positives)

Keywords: postprocessing, lightroom, photoshop, luminosity, hue, saturation, cropping, j_norman_reid_positives, shadows, shapes

In Part 1 of this article, I showed several types of shadows that can be incorporated into our photos.  In this Part 2, I’ll continue that review, after which I’ll conclude by briefly considering some issues of exposing and post-processing images for shadows.

Curved subjects have their round shapes best defined by soft sidelighting that projects a gradually deepening shadow as it progresses across the face of the subject.  The gentle shading that results will convert a subject that in flat lighting would be one-dimensional into one whose volume is apparent.  In studio settings, the light can cast a visible penumbra on the dark side of the subject that, in addition to showing the subject’s volume, adds interest to the photo.  Volumetric shadows result from side lighting or top lighting that occurs at an angle to the subject that creates a definite directional shadow.

12. This building in the shape of a coffee pot illustrates the volumetric type of shadow, in which sidelighting defines the rounded shape of the structure. Lacking this shadow, the building would appear to be flat in the two-dimensional space of the photograph.
Click for an enlargement


Chiaroscuro as it’s now understood is dramatic lighting from a single and usually sharply directed light source.  There are several distinct types of chiaroscuro, as the following examples show.  One common type is when the light is filtered through an intervening screen of some sort, creating a patterned or dappled effect.  Photo 13 is an example.

13. The baby elephant is lit by sunlight dappled through overhead branches. This sort of filtered and partial lighting is typical of one form of chiaroscuro lighting.
Click for an enlargement


A second case is sharply focused light that strikes a portion of the subject, highlighting it and creating a dramatic effect.  In such instances, the light source is small, highly directional, and often cast from an overhead position, as Photo 14 shows.


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1 comment

Dawn Woolsey (Dawnacious) on July 14, 2023

I enjoyed Part 2 as much as Part Very informative for those of us who had no idea! Where there is light, there is also shadow. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and insight. Regards, Dawn