Shadowy figure: Sometimes the best photo is not right in front of you
The literal photo, the one right in front of you, is not always the best photo. Sometimes the best photo may be of nothing at all.
Case in point is the photo you will find on page two of today’s Times.
Go ahead, look at it, I will wait … The photo is of a concrete patio that is part of Lookout Point on Harmar Hill, or is it?
The photo is actually one of me standing below a tree. It is a self-portrait, or as the kids like to call it these days, a selfie.
It was shot in the middle of a sunny day at a time that I normally feel produces what I like to call “ugly light.”
Midday sun produces harsh shadows that flatter neither man, beast, flora nor fauna.
The trick of course is making those shadows work for you.
After walking up the steep section of Harmar Hill I took a break on the benches at the small park. Lancaster Street is among the steepest inclines in town, and the park provides a great location to catch your breath.
I take a lot of photos during these breaks, normally they are not of myself but of something interesting nearby.
I have always found shadows and reflections to be interesting elements to include in photos.
They provide a muted balance to the main subject.
Marietta is a river town, so reflections are plentiful along the riverbanks. Shadows are particularly interesting because they are really the absence of light.
They are not there at all really except for the fact that there is a contrast of light and dark created because of something blocking the light source.
The light source for most photography is of course the sun. When things block the light it makes shadows. The morning and evening clouds block it and make gorgeous sunrises and sunsets.
Trees block it mid-day and make shade for us to all enjoy.
It is the transition between shaded and sun-lit areas that make for the interesting patterns of shadows.
The closer the blocking object is to you, the sharper the shadow will appear.
Clouds have a special property when producing shadows.
Because a cloud is made up of billions of tiny water droplets, it defuses the light in every direction, including up. Because of this, less light reaches us and what does reach the ground is nearly nondirectional.
The resulting shadows below objects are loosely defined and photographically just appear as uninteresting darker areas.
This non-directional light can be advantageous in some instances, just not when you want to have shadows in your photos.
The photo on page two of today’s Times may be an extreme example of a photo of nothing.
I ran another “nothing” photo a few months ago that was of a brick sidewalk on Warren Street, taken during a rare winter’s day when it was sunny.
The photo was of the sidewalk, but the subject was a shadow of a person walking on it.
Looking beyond the obvious photo can frequently yield interesting results.
Art Smith is online manager of The Times and a long-time photographer. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.