With all the emphasis lately on making HDR photographs, it’s easy to forget the importance of shadows in photography.
Let’s consider these two images. At first glance, they’re pretty much identical. In fact, the one on the left is an HDR, and the other is not.
In this case, both images are very detailed and both are fairly dramatic. However, the HDR image lacks depth and texture, because the details in the shadows have been brought up to be tonally similar to the highlights. In my opinion, the “standard” exposure makes the better photograph in this instance.
Shadows can also add a sense of mystery or intrigue to a photograph.
Consider this old house. Obviously in disrepair, there’s a story here. An HDR image would have revealed details of that story — broken furniture on the screened porch, for instance, or maybe a detail through the broken second story window. An HDR image would steal away our opportunity to imagine that story, or would make additional exploration almost redundant.
Shadows are framing elements.
This shot was serendipity. When I was taking this, I was following the seagull scooting away from the rushing surf. That was the action I was trying to record. And then I noticed the light beginning to frame the bird. I waited until he stepped into the right spot, hoping that the water wouldn’t begin to recede before he got where I wanted. Click!
Without the shadowed area framing the gull, this shot would have been pretty boring, really — just another bird who didn’t what to get his feet wet.
These are just a few examples of the importance of retaining the shadow areas in photographs. Rick Sammon talks about other ways of using shadows as framing elements in a short video on his blog today. There are also some related articles linked below.