We have all heard of the Golden Hour, aka the Magic Hour… that hour or so after sunrise and before sunset. During that time the sun is low in the sky and produces a softer, more flattering light.
Absolutely, it is the best time to make photographs. But, when traveling, we don’t have the luxury of shooting just early morning and late afternoon. We are on the move and shooting all day long, trying to capture the best images we can, and knowing we are not likely to return when lighting is better.
Shadow is the obstruction of light. Shadows appear to me to be of supreme importance in perspective, because, without them opaque and solid bodies will be ill defined; that which is contained within their outlines and their boundaries themselves will be ill-understood unless they are shown against a background of a different tone from themselves.
How to deal with that harsh midday sun and resulting strong shadows? Traveling through Rajasthan and northern India recently, I did battle with that brutal contrasty light. But finally, an epiphany: “Shadows are your friend.” Therefore, use the shadows as part of your composition. That made for some interesting shooting.
Light illuminates texture and color – shadows define form.
I started wandering narrow alleyways looking for shadows. Dark, geometric shapes, cast from nearby buildings, add drama to an image and can totally change the mood.
Soft, flattering light is almost always best for portraits, but if a face has deep wrinkles and a lot of character, harsher shadows can be an advantage.
Editor’s note: “Shadow Play” was first published in May 2014. It is one of my all time favorites and I hope you will like seeing it again.