Shadows as Subjects & In Composition

 In Tips + Tricks

Shadows can be a great subject for architectural images, in both abstracts and cityscapes. I think I was originally drawn to shadows because, when my kids were younger, the only time I could get out to shoot would be the middle of the day, I was way too wiped out by evening to even consider venturing out.

I’m sure you’ve heard many times to avoid midday light for photography. I would encourage you to reconsider this “rule”. While the soft light of the golden hour is amazing, you can make any kind of light work if you know how to use it to your advantage.

It’s particularly compelling when isolating just a portion of a building, as it can add another layer of interest to your subject. You essentially have two subjects in each frame: the shadow and the structure.

aon building

art institute of chicago

boston public library

Or the shadows can be the subject of your images. While there’s the background architectural element, each image below is far more about the shadows. Unlike the images above where the shadow and the subject are equally important to the composition.

petersen museum, los angeles

mit media lab

You can also utilize shadows in cityscape images. It’s a little tougher to do, and you may have to reconsider cityscapes only being about the wider city views. A more dense urbanscape is a good way to incorporate those shadows. In this next image, the shadow is your predominant subject.

new york city

Here, the shadow is definitely secondary to this urban scene.

chicago, cta

Not a common occurrence, but the winter light creates long shadows of the Chicago skyline over Lake Michigan.

chicago skyline

A couple other ways to utilize shadows… Adding a little bit of nature to your frame. Whether you include the natural element or not is up to you and what you want to convey. The image on the right, with only the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the tree’s shadow, makes the image far more about the architecture and the added, slightly mysterious element of the tree. While the image on the left is equally about the tree and the structure. You decide what story you want to tell.

walt disney concert hall

You can add a human element.

parthenon, acropolis

Then we have shadows that play a larger role in the composition of your image. Here, the shadows act as leading lines.

modern art museum, fort worth, texas, tadao ando

milwaukee art museum, santiago calatrava

Or you can use those shadows to frame your subject.

Ray and Maria Stata Center - Cambridge, MA

Aga Khan Museum - Toronto, ON

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