Embrace the Shadows

Evening at Crescent Lake, Washington, USA.
Evening at Crescent Lake, Washington, USA.

Recently I found myself in an art gallery looking at some of the paintings. I can’t recall why I was there and it’s not something that I ordinarily do. As I stood, staring at an amazing landscape painting, a realisation struck me. The painter was simply using techniques to create the illusion of light. These techniques had to be mastered but they could also be learned.

Now this might not seem like a revelation to many of you, but it was like a light going on in my head. What I realised was that photography is becoming more and more like painting all the time. Most photographers spend a significant amount of time adjusting their images with tools like Lightroom and Photoshop in order to achieve their vision. What really struck home is that we should be looking to these old master art techniques when adjusting and enhancing our photography.

Looking now at works of the old masters, I see the use of shadows to emphasise light as being a core technique. You might think that I’m just referring to contrast here but I’m not. Their techniques and work are somehow different. It’s not like taking the contrast slider in Lightroom and boosting contrast globally. No, they are creating shadows to give the illusion of light and it’s not something that’s easily replicated with a few sliders in our editing tools.

What I take away from this is that we should be embracing the shadows not remove them. We need to include blacks in our images and not be afraid to make the image low key. Just because we have the tools to look into the deeps shadows doesn’t mean that we should.

This blog post was originally intended to finish with the above paragraph but then I decided to look for photography that reminded me of old paintings and came across the work of Kevin Best on Flickr – amazing isn’t it. I then took a look on amazon and found his book.

Still Life Photography
Still Life Photography Book

What spooked me though is that I had purchased this book a couple of years back but never read it. I’m off to download it to my Kindle again to see what I can learn.

6 thoughts on “Embrace the Shadows

  1. I think it is wonderful when photographs look like paintings and paintings look like photographs. Painting with light is the only way to go! It is amazing how some photographers use studio light to get the right mood but for me, the challenge is finding the light in a natural setting. Everybody has their own passion and talent but you can only get better by observing and incorporating new things as they come along. Excellent post.

    1. Thank you very much, I’m pleased that it’s struck a chord with you. And your very right. If we don’t observe and incorporate we don’t improve. It reminds me of the book title “Steal like an artist”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.