Most photographers will tell you to follow the light—but the dark can be just as compelling. Shadows not only bring contrast to your composition, they also direct and fracture light, adding dimension and depth. Here’s how to use shadows effectively in your travel photography.


Shadows are not silhouettes or reflections. Silhouettes are the dark shapes or outlines caused when an object or person blocks a light source from the camera. Reflections are projections caused when light bounces off a surface. Shadows, on the other hand, are the dark shape that’s cast off a subject when it blocks the light. Without them, your image would look flat and lifeless. Here’s how to use them effectively.


Our eyes are naturally drawn to points of high tonal contrast. Since shadows and light create contrast, you can use shadows to direct your viewer’s attention to certain elements of your composition. Shadows that have a shape, for example, can be used to direct to points of interest, like a leading line would.


Once you decide how you want to use your shadow, it’s time to consider your light source. Distant or soft light sources produce faint and less defined shadows. Closer and harder light sources cast hard shadows in distinct shapes. You can use hard light to your advantage by intentionally placing items out of frame to cast abstract shapes over your subject.

Shot by Thomas Machuelle with an Olympus OM-D Camera | M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO Lens | 1/500 sec | F8 | ISO200


Just as shadows can reveal form in landscape shots, they can also highlight texture and accentuate patterns. When the sun is low in the sky it hits subjects or landscapes at an angle and casts soft shadows (dawn and dusk are best for this). These shadows add texture and movement to your photos when cast against details like ripples in water or striations in rocks. Just remember to adjust your lens to a wider aperture (F2.8 or wider) to let more light into the frame when you’re shooting in low light. The harsh artificial light of your flash will disturb the mood of your shot.

Shot by Thomas Machuelle with an Olympus OM-D Camera | M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO Lens | 1/200 sec | F8 | ISO200

So, next time you go on vacation, look to the dark as well as the light. Shooting with shadows will always give an added dimension to your photos and capture an accurate depiction of what’s in front of your eyes. Not only does this make a better shot, but it serves as a great keep-sake too. Now grab your camera and step over to the dark side.