Using Shadows to Enhance Your Architectural Images

One of my favorite architectural subjects is shadows. Of course, you need some source of light. The sun being the most obvious, but artificial light works too. Just keep your eyes open for unexpected opportunities.

Let’s dive into a few ways to incorporate shadows into your architectural shots.

Shadows as the main subject

In these two examples (at SFMOMA), the leading subject within the frame are the shadows. The actual architecture is secondary.

In this first shot, you have some context seeing the skylight beams which are creating the shadows.

This next shot is still the same location but with a slight adjustment. This time, we don’t see the beams that are casting those shadows. There’s an element of mystery by excluding them from the frame.

In both cases, the wall is the secondary subject, letting the shadows take center stage.

Shadows as layers

I guess I’d argue any image with a shadow inherently creates layers. Sometimes they’re a bit more prevalent than in other images. I think this is especially true in wider shots like the one below (Art Institute of Chicago).

Also worth noting, the architectural element creating the shadow (in this case, a window) is not in the frame again.

In this next, more detailed shot, the main subject (the Oculus) is casting a shadow on itself. Not only do the two shadows – the one at the bottom middle right & the one in the bottom middle left – create depth and dimension, i.e. layers, but the fact that this piece of architecture is sculptural also adds to that layered feeling within the image.

Shadows as leading lines

This is definitely easier to do with a wider shot. Those lines, whether straight or at an angle, pull the viewer into the frame.

In this case (Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth), from the bottom left and the bottom right + the vertical shadows on the wall drawing your eye toward the back of the frame.

Not impossible to do in a more detailed, abstract way but definitely more difficult. Here, just a small portion of the actual architecture (South Pond Pavilion, Lincoln Park) that’s casting a shadow is in the frame. My intent was to let the shadows take the lead.

Shadows creating texture

On occasion, a shadow can create a textural feel to the surface of your subjects. In both of these cases, dabbled light bouncing off the glass is creating this effect (AMA Plaza Garage, Chicago & Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, respectively).

Shadows from nature mixed with architecture

Always love a good nature + constructed combo. Again, either include the natural subject that’s casting the shadow or make it a bit more mysterious by excluding it (Walt Disney Concert Hall).

Shadows in cityscapes

Definitely, a tougher one to do but occasionally there’s a fun way to combine the two. In this first shot, the Chicago skyline is casting a shadow on Lake Michigan. You don’t see the city, so it’s a bit more of an abstracted way to make a cityscape image.

In this next shot, it’s not the city that’s making a shadow but using an architectural element to add interest. In this case, it’s the South Pond Pavilion, Lincoln Park with its small shadow also acting as a leading line. Also, note the shadows in the upper left corner of the frame balancing the shadowplay of that shadow in the bottom right corner. Oh, and the tree is casting its shadow through the bottom center of the frame.

Some fun ways to be on the lookout for shadows. If I’ve missed anything feel free to comment and I’ll add your suggestions to the post.

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