In tricky lighting situations, most photographers expose for the highlights to prevent them from getting blown out. But this can create dark shadows which sometimes don’t preserve enough detail. What to do with them? Should you brighten them up in post? According to Sean Tucker, you shouldn’t. Instead, just embrace them and use them to your advantage. In this highly inspirational video, Sean discusses how to do it, and why this advice goes for both photography and life.
Embrace the shadows in photography
As you probably already know, the dynamic range of your camera is limited compared to the dynamic range of your eyes. In other words, the camera sees things differently to you. Sean found this somehow frustrating when he was just starting out. So, he would create HDR images or over-processed raw files to increase the brightness in shadows. He felt like he had lost something in the shadows, and this led to badly processed photos.
But with time, Sean learned to embrace these shadows in order to preserve the highlights. When your highlights are properly exposed, there will be more dark shadows, and you need to learn to use them more deliberately. You can take the limitations of your camera and turn them into something good. Use them to your advantage; tell a story with them.
In the video, Sean gives plenty of great examples of the creative use of shadows. It’s often found in the movies, and the video shows examples from movies by Roger Deakins, such as “Skyfall,” “Blade Runner 2049,” “Unbroken” etc. Sean gives more examples found in the work of some great photographers. For all of them, shadows are a storytelling tool, not an obstacle.
Shadows can sculpt light and help you tell your story. They can draw in the viewer, in which case, it doesn’t matter if you lose some detail there.
Embrace the shadows in life, too!
You have to have shadows in an image to make it complete, more complex and more dynamic. And when you think a bit about it – this is true in life as well. “We’re forged in the shadows,” as Sean puts it. And if we see our life as a photo we’re creating and exposing for, we need the shadows to shape the light and tell more of our story.
The “shadows” in your life are all those difficult times and dark feelings. Unfortunately, going through them will still be difficult even if you embrace them. However, it could be a bit easier if you always have the bigger picture in front of you. Just realize that these shadows are only a part of the overall image of your life, they have their purpose, and they will help you to create a better story.
[Embrace your Shadows: A lesson for Light and Life | Sean Tucker]