Do you want your photos to feel cinematic?

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Do you want your photos to feel cinematic?

In photography, shadows and contrast can be used to create dramatic images. The key is to dare to leave out the details in the shadows. In this concept-led work, we don’t need these details. Shadow is a symbol of darkness and mystery, which gives the viewer more space to daydream. Instead of obsessing over your camera’s dynamic range, prioritize the highlights and let the shadows fade. If the light is strong enough, it’s hard to get any detail in the shadows, even for “top artifacts.”

Bright light helps create tension in the image

In the image below, taken in Bolivia, the sun is shining behind me and casting a strong shadow on the bottom of the frame. This shadow even connects to the bottom of an old car and takes up a third of the frame. For this photo, I didn’t need the details in the shadows, although it wouldn’t hurt to keep some. Shooting in Raw format, in most cases we can pull back some of the details in the shadows in the post software, which also gives us more options.

Upon re-examining the photo, I immediately realized that it would be a good idea to switch it to black and white, as this kind of high contrast image would be more fully expressed in black and white tones. By removing the color, the shadows are further enhanced and the depth is more apparent, while at the same time the dramatic elements of the composition are highlighted. In addition, we were able to take the impact of the image to another level by adding contrast in Lightroom, while adjusting the sharpness made the texture pop out on the page. The image below is black and white.

Look for contrasts around you

The next photo I took was taken indoors, in an old manor house that is now a museum. The apples in the basket are embraced by the sunlight pouring into the window. The window is not big, so the room as a whole still maintains a dim atmosphere, which is why the background part of the picture is dark. In this contrasting scene, the part hit by sunlight is much brighter than the rest of the picture.

Again, I tried to convert the image to black and white as well, and the texture and shadows became more prominent when there was no other color interference.

Use the silhouette effect

I also used the shadow and contrast method when shooting this scene before the storm. The mountains are silhouetted against the sun. The approaching storm in the sky was dark in colour and with an uneasy air, and below it a band of brighter sky, like a gulf, separated the two darker parts, the mountains and the storm. Nature creates natural silhouettes for us, and the addition of light brings dramatic tension to the photo.

Since the color of the image itself is relatively monotonous, the black and white version made sense.

Shadows are everywhere in the beach scene below, but the only thing that catches my eye are the silhouettes on the right. After I set up my camera to shoot, two children burst into view, breaking the silence of the beach by climbing over the rocks. I realized that this was a rare opportunity to shoot, so I used a long exposure (30s) to soften the water surface, and of course I also brought the silhouettes of the two children into a blur. I have to say that I am lucky, these two children add life to the picture, and guide people’s eyes gradually into the distance of the picture.

In the last image, I used shadows again to create a mysterious and dramatic effect. I put the focus on the grass in the foreground of the picture, then the aperture was wide open and the setting sun was properly blurred in the background. For post-processing, I adjusted the white balance in Lightroom to further bring out the warm tones of the sunset. But unlike other photos, color is the soul of this one, so switching to black and white doesn’t work here.


I’m writing this article because I want to refute the idea that capturing dark detail is the first thing photography does, and that failing to do it perfectly is a sign of technical incompetence. However, this is not the case, so let’s embrace the fact that camera sensors can’t reach the dynamic range of the human eye, and accept that they can’t show all the details. Let’s use the magic of light and shadow to create interesting and powerful photos, leaving some mystery behind, and letting people fill in the gaps with their imagination.

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