How to make good use of Shadows & Light Effects in People Portraits - Photography Tips, Tricks & Hacks

In last post, we talked about understanding light in terms of direction of light, quality of light, how it influences colors of a photograph and intensity of light on subject. In this post, we shall focus on one of my favourite ways to bring attention to main subject by playing with shadows and making good use of them. In this blogpost, I have shared few example photographs and we will talk about each in terms of what kind of light condition it was, how that photograph was clicked and then post-processed. While reading through the post, please try to imagine the situations shared so that you appreciate the process of creating a photograph involves lot of things and your vision about using the lighting conditions is extremely important.

In last post, we talked about understanding light in terms of direction of light, quality of light, how it influences colors of a photograph and intensity of light on subject. In this post, we shall focus on one of my favourite ways to bring attention to main subject by playing with shadows and making good use of them. In this blogpost, I have shared few example photographs and we will talk about each in terms of what kind of light condition it was, how that photograph was clicked and then post-processed. While reading through the post, please try to imagine the situations shared so that you appreciate the process of creating a photograph involves lot of things and your vision about using the lighting conditions is extremely important.


Dense blacks make your subject stand-out and if you find such lighting opportunities, use them well. Let me share about above photograph so that you can relate with it. Nishant (the subject) and I were on a trek along with our family members. I was little behind from everyone and at a distance I noticed that a particular spot in the forest was getting direct light when surrounding areas were quite dark because of dense forest in this part of the trek. I made Nishant sit there and clicked this photograph. Were shadows as dense as you see in above photograph? Not this much but there they were pretty dark. All shadows were made darker later in post-processing. But broader point is that the photograph looks interesting because of this thick shadow area around the subject.     There are some harsh shadows on one part of the face and hands, but I prioritised to make this photograph look interesting. Feedbacks are welcome through comments section below.

Dense blacks make your subject stand-out and if you find such lighting opportunities, use them well. Let me share about above photograph so that you can relate with it. Nishant (the subject) and I were on a trek along with our family members. I was little behind from everyone and at a distance I noticed that a particular spot in the forest was getting direct light when surrounding areas were quite dark because of dense forest in this part of the trek. I made Nishant sit there and clicked this photograph. Were shadows as dense as you see in above photograph? Not this much but there they were pretty dark. All shadows were made darker later in post-processing. But broader point is that the photograph looks interesting because of this thick shadow area around the subject. 

There are some harsh shadows on one part of the face and hands, but I prioritised to make this photograph look interesting. Feedbacks are welcome through comments section below. 

Above photograph is an example of similar dark shadows around the subject but here these are created through some external lighting. More about this photograph can be checked on following blogpost - Understanding & Observing Lighting conditions is critical step to create Great Photographs

Above photograph is an example of similar dark shadows around the subject but here these are created through some external lighting. More about this photograph can be checked on following blogpost - Understanding & Observing Lighting conditions is critical step to create Great Photographs

Above photograph shows a good use of high intensity side light from right side of the subject, who is wearing black T-shirt and background is also dark. Since exposure is set to deal with extremely bright part of the face, I got dark surroundings accordingly. There is not much post-processing done in above photograph apart from adding little exposure to the face as original photograph was underexposed to suppress background in this frame.     Related Blogpost - Photography Composition Rules - Rule of Thirds

Above photograph shows a good use of high intensity side light from right side of the subject, who is wearing black T-shirt and background is also dark. Since exposure is set to deal with extremely bright part of the face, I got dark surroundings accordingly. There is not much post-processing done in above photograph apart from adding little exposure to the face as original photograph was underexposed to suppress background in this frame. 


This photograph may look similar to above but there are shot in different lighting. Basic difference is that this photograph is clicked in softer light as shows on the face of this kid is transitioning smoothly while the photograph above has some harsh shadows on other side of nose. Take a pause and notice that and appreciate the different between lighting in both photographs and also the background in second one is not as dark I could have in first one. Similarity is that in both photographs, subject is lit with side light.     Related Blogpost - Tips to click Great People Portraits with your Phone Camera

This photograph may look similar to above but there are shot in different lighting. Basic difference is that this photograph is clicked in softer light as shows on the face of this kid is transitioning smoothly while the photograph above has some harsh shadows on other side of nose. Take a pause and notice that and appreciate the different between lighting in both photographs and also the background in second one is not as dark I could have in first one. Similarity is that in both photographs, subject is lit with side light. 


Does above photograph also look similar to above 2, but it's not. In this photograph, there is front light on the subject as well as side light but there is no light on back side of the subject. and then photograph is clicked from side and not from front of the subject. Background was also in shadow area so background is suppressed.     Related Blogpost - Quick-Tips to click Great Selfies with your Phone Camera

Does above photograph also look similar to above 2, but it's not. In this photograph, there is front light on the subject as well as side light but there is no light on back side of the subject. and then photograph is clicked from side and not from front of the subject. Background was also in shadow area so background is suppressed. 


Above photograph is classic example of backlight during sunsets which is brilliant to get creative with silhouettes. So you set exposure in camera to capture colours in the sky well, which puts main subject in shadows and hence silhouette.     Related Blogpost - Creating High-Tone Effect in Portraits using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom || Post-Processing Tips

Above photograph is classic example of backlight during sunsets which is brilliant to get creative with silhouettes. So you set exposure in camera to capture colours in the sky well, which puts main subject in shadows and hence silhouette. 


Above photograph shows a photograph from a plat where there are lot of high power lights in different directions, but in colours this was very boring as well little weird. Above photograph is made black and white. What made me to decide about black and white? - This photograph has some strong contrast in overall photograph and some experiments while editing made me decide on black & white version. Intense shadows in the photograph make is special.     Related Blogpost - Correcting Skin Tones in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom - Part1 (Bsic Post-Production for People Portraits)

Above photograph shows a photograph from a plat where there are lot of high power lights in different directions, but in colours this was very boring as well little weird. Above photograph is made black and white. What made me to decide about black and white? - This photograph has some strong contrast in overall photograph and some experiments while editing made me decide on black & white version. Intense shadows in the photograph make is special. 

Related Blogpost - Correcting Skin Tones in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom - Part1 (Bsic Post-Production for People Portraits)

All examples shared above are pretty easy ones. So observe how you can exploit shadows in your photographs. The video below tells few tricks you can experiment with. 

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