Use Light and Shadow to Create a Mood

The creative use of light and shadow is probably the most powerful tool in the photographer’s kit. Properly using light and shadow allows the photographer to communicate a number of moods and emotions.

There’s a number of tools and techniques the photographer can use to manipulate light and shadow. Photographers can use strobes, constant output lights, gels, scrims, reflectors or numerous other tools to create, shape and manipulate light. But even if you don’t have these tools, you can always utilize natural or existing light to create an interesting look to your pictures.

As a photojournalist, it was often not possible to set up a full light kit and I often had to make

The creative use of light and shadow adds depth and communicates emotion to your viewer. (Copyright JWS/ThePhotoColumn)

The creative use of light and shadow adds depth and communicates emotion to your viewer. (Copyright JWS/ThePhotoColumn)

do with available light or, at best, use one of the flash units (often a Speedlight) that I carried with me. This really required me to think out my shots in order to use the light to convey the message I wanted to express in my image.

This photo is an example. I was covering an MMA fight in Cincinnati, Ohio, and I couldn’t set up lights or use a camera-mounted flash. I was limited to the available light, which was coming from some spotlights used to illuminate the octagon. It was a small-production, amateur fight so needless to say, the lighting wasn’t up to par with what you would find at a professional match. My goal was to highlight the fighters in a way that paid tribute to the skill and athletic abilities of the fighters. I really focused on using the light and shadows to illustrate this.

Light and shadow creates a mood. It gives an image a sense of definition. If you want to improve your images — or graduate from someone who takes snapshots to someone who makes images — then learning to manipulate light will take you further in your photography.

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