Understanding Light and Shadow

Understanding light and shadow is an important part of photography. To begin, let me step back and give you a little science lesson. There are three parts to a shadow: the umbra, the penumbra, and the antumbra. For the purposes of this article, we will only be discussing the umbra and the penumbra. The umbra is the darkest part of the shadow (generally speaking, the outline of your subject matter) while the penumbra is the fuzzy, gradual fade from light to shadow: in other words, the gray area. The more gray area you have, the softer your light source is. And soft light is what I am encouraging you to look for in your photographs.

In high school, I enjoyed the meticulous art form called pointillism. If you’re not familiar with pointillism, it’s simply creating images formed through shadows, using myriads of tiny dots from a fine point pen. (Below, I have an example of a piece I completed at that time.)



Though meticulous, I am happy I learned this art form. It helped me to better understand the gray area. Notice, in the image above, how the dots multiply and are closer together in shadows. They gradually diminish and become farther apart as they blend into the highlights, where they finally disappear altogether.

Understanding light and shadow makes it easier to see light. Seeing light, is key to becoming a good photographer. Though there is a time and place for hard light, I prefer the warmth and gentleness that soft light gives to my subjects.

understanding light and shadow

Photo Editing

Understanding light and shadow is also important to photo editing. I always edit my photos using layers, and the fuzzy brush is often my “best friend”. I use it almost exclusively when editing. Below I have an example of one “click” with the fuzzy brush. Notice that (all-important) gray area. 

fuzzy brush

It is amazing how much understanding light and shadow has to do with that tiny bit in between, often known as the gray area, or more scientifically, the penumbra. Keep your eyes out for it as you study light. It’s a super-helpful tool and adds great depth to your photographs!

Sonya Adcock is a fine art photographer based in the beautiful state of Pennsylvania. She specializes in artistic child photography. Sonya’s artwork has been featured in Photography Monthly Magazine, Bella Grace Magazine, and Redbook Magazine. In the hectic pace of a digital era, her artwork encourages you to slow down and remember the joys and magic of childhood.

For the photographer, Sonya will be releasing photo editing tutorials, actions, and overlays. Please join our Mailing List to be notified of future release dates. Or you can subscribe to her weekly Blog for tips on photography and art.

Sonya’s artwork is also available to purchase. Please Contact her to learn more.

If you are interested in family portraits for you or someone you love, be sure view our Investment Page. Sonya Adcock Photography offers high quality prints and products for display. Some of our products include gallery wrapped canvases, albums and framed prints, as well as other unique memorabilia. We also offers digital files for sale, so you can print your images as you like.

Your memories are timeless. Sonya Adcock Photography would be delighted to work with you. Book your family portrait photography session today!



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