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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Digital Photography Lessons - Do You HATE Those Irritating Shadows?

By Dan Eitreim

Are there distracting shadows ruining your photographs?

The bad news is; shadows are a constant problem for photographers. The good news is, there are a number of simple "fixes".

Let's start with the basics. What causes a shadow? Clearly, it is caused by light hitting your model and not hitting the background.

The first "fix" if you're having a problem with distracting, ugly shadows on your backdrop...remove the backdrop. If there is nothing behind your model, there is nothing for the shadow to fall on, therefor there's no visible shadow.

So, the first fix in our shadow removal arsenal is to remove the backdrop - if possible.

If you're shooting outdoors, position your subject so that there is nothing behind them! Easy enough.

If your photo session is being done indoors, you obviously can't take down or remove the walls, so move your model into the center of the room. They'll be posing far enough away from the walls so that the shadows will magically disappear. Usually makes for a more unique and better shot too!

The second way to approach the problem is to position a light to illuminate the background.

If you are using a "studio" lighting setup, once you get your subject lit the way you want them, add an additional light that strikes only the background and not the subject.

Adding the extra light can be more than just a shadow remover. By adding in scrims, cookies and colored gels to modify the light, it becomes a part of the design of the photo. The modifiers will throw colors, patterns and shapes on your backdrop.

The way to think of light and shadow is this...light is like a billiards ball. When you roll a billiards ball into a cushion, the ball will bounce off. The key is, it will bounce off at the same angle it struck to cushion. (Remember this the next time you are trying to eliminate glare from eyeglasses.)

Shadows on the other hand are ALWAYS directly opposite the light. So, another shadow fix is to move the light so that it hits the subject at an angle - so the shadow falls into an area that won't show in the photo.

You can do this outdoors by moving the subject until the light is hitting them from the direction you want. Indoors, with a studio setup, you can move around the lights to get the best angle. When shooting with only an on camera flash, you can bounce the light off the ceiling or a wall to change the angle the light is approaching the subject. Watch out for painted walls that will throw a color cast on your model.

The size and strength of the light source - as related to your model - is what will control the harshness and intensity of your shadows.

If you lower the intensity of the light, that will also lower the intensity of the associated shadow. It will still be there, but you may be able to minimize its' distracting effect.

Moving the light further from the model or reducing the lights' power are two simple ways to lower the intensity of light hitting your subject.

You can wrap light around a model - and minimize the shadows - by making the light bigger. This is done with reflectors, softboxes and umbrellas.

These modifiers can be thought of as being like a cloud. A cloud that moves between your model and the sun is nothing more than a giant diffuser. It makes the entire cloud a light source (bigger) instead of just the sun (smaller). This wraps the light around your model minimizing shadow intensity. Go outside and check out the difference in shadows when the light is coming from the sun and from a cloud. You'll notice some astounding differences.

This article is just a simple primer on light, shadows and diffusion. There are entire books written on the subject and I'd suggest reading a few.

Happy shooting.

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