Five Ways to Use Shadows for Impressive Black and White Photography

Great black and white photography goes beyond just shooting photos in monochrome mode. This quick tutorial shows how to use shadows effectively to create great black and white photos.

If you find yourself drawn to the dreamy, dramatic quality of black and white photography and want to begin shooting your own, you have to tweak your mindset a little bit. It’s not as easy as merely shooting anything and everything with your camera set to monochrome mode: it involves looking at things a little differently so you can capture extraordinary images. Today’s featured tutorial shows us how to use shadows to achieve this goal when creating black and white photos.

Ray Scott, of Visual Art Photography Tutorials, begins his video by saying that black and white photography encourages and challenges us to be creative because it’s vastly different from our reality. This quality makes it inherently abstract. An effective way to tap into these qualities is to use shadows to add drama, contrast, mood, mystery, and definition. Watch below to see some great examples!

Black and white photography can transform a rather typical or uninteresting scene into a bold and dramatic one. All of Scott’s examples show different ways that shadows can add drama or contrast to a scene, which works really great for drawing the attention of the viewer. The shadows of the trees in the first example are further emphasized in black and white, serving as prominent leading lines to draw the eyes to the bright part of the photo. In the second example, the shadows created by the trees against a snow-covered surface show a sharp contrast between bright and dark areas of the scene.

The third example is interesting as it depicts how to use shadows to tap the abstract quality of monochrome imagery. Aside from strong contrast adding to the minimalist look of the image, the shadow adds a touch of drama to make the composition more interesting. The shadow also provides us with a clue as to what we’re actually looking at.

Shadows work great for shooting silhouettes, which provide both a mysterious mood and make great use of contrast to emphasize shapes and textures. They also add a stronger definition of the subject against the background, as Scott’s two silhouette examples show. Capturing the shadows well also proves handy to bring out all the details in landscape photos. As he mentioned, without the shadows, surfaces would look flat and dull.

Lastly, keeping the shadows prominent in the dark areas is a surefire way to add mystery to an otherwise uninteresting scene. The goal should be to keep certain areas covered or obscured by shadows to appeal to the viewers’ curiosity about what lies behind them.

Don’t forget to check out the Visual Art Photography Tutorials channel on YouTube for more helpful photography tips and tricks from Ray Scott.


Screenshot image from the video