Shadows in monochrome

Shadows can be a very important part of a photograph. They give a sense of weight and of depth to an image. This is particularly important in black and white photographs for, without the presence of colour, monochrome images rely on tonal values, texture and shapes to form a powerful image.

The following images show how I like to present shadows. There are always exceptions depending on subject and light, but for establishing the depth and darkness of the shadows I usually approach them in the same way.

Whilst taking the photograph I ensure that the shadows are not blocked out and that the lights are not blown. With the Fuji cameras I use, recovery of detail in the darker areas of the picture is usually very good indeed, so a miscalculation in the shadow depth is not always a disaster. They can normally be recovered in post-processing [PP]. However, getting it right in camera is obviously the best way to go, it will mean less work in PP. I always ensure the whites are not blown. If the camera has not captured any detail in the brighter areas of the image, then no amount of PP will bring them back.

Once the images are in my processing workflow, then I continually check that the white and black points are not blown or blocked using Levels. If they are then I re-adjust. This can happen throughout processing particularly in sharpening.

As I print my finished images, I personally prefer to ensure that I can print shadows without blocking and light areas without leaving the paper itself to emulate pure white. This eliminates the slight halo that can occur around the edge of a non-printed area on a print. The final tweak for white and black points happens in soft-proofing the photograph before the printing is done.

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon XF18-135mm F/3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR

In this image, the harsh directional light produces shadows from the walls of the building which I have darkened whilst still retaining detail. Of course, this could have been approached in a more contrast-orientated manner and would have been equally viable.

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon XF18-135mm F/3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR

The diagonal shadows in this picture formed a strong movement through the image in contrast to the lines of the steps. The detail in the shadows ensures that the image does not become disjointed between its light and dark areas.

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon XF18-135mm F/3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR

The image shows that with careful use of shadows and the detail within them, a composition can work almost as an abstract by using the contrast between light and dark, whilst still retaining its representational values.



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