*The “Capture Color Series” covers different tips and lessons on Color Street Photography
The Natural Light & Black Shadow Effect
Some people message me asking how to get the effect where subjects are exposed, while the rest of the scene is in black darkness (Like the photo below). Some even ask if it’s photoshopped to get that effect, which it’s not. So I thought I’d make a post to answer those questions and show you how to do yourself.
This is a popular look in Street Photography today because it adds drama and really makes subjects, colors and contrast pop out at you. It magnifies the intensity of color and contrast too. It also helps your eye focus on specific elements, while taking away any unwanted distractions, like a messy background.
So how difficult is it?
The truth is it’s easy. There’s no Photoshop, flash or complicated tricks needed. It’s all natural light and it’s very simple.
You only need 3 things. The right natural light, the correct camera settings for exposure, and the subjects in the right spot against the light.
So if you want to know how to go out and practice this effect in your Street Photography, I’ll break it down in 5 easy steps.
5 Steps to Highlighting with Natural Light
1. Find the Light
More than anything, you need good sunlight for this effect to work. You’re looking for contrast between bright light and shadow. So you need to find a place where the sunlight is shining, but part of the scene is covered in shadow.
Tunnels, tall buildings, awnings, or anything else that partially blocks the light and casts a shadow should work. You just have to make sure enough light isn’t blocked to provide space for the subject(s) and elements to be exposed.
2. Set Your Exposure for the Highlights
This is the most important step for this effect to work well. Make sure you set your exposure for the highlights! This means your settings are set to expose for the elements in the light. Not the shadow or the whole scene.
I recommend shooting fully in manual for this to work best. If you don’t, there’s a good chance your subjects will be completely blown out and overexposed because the camera is wanting to bring out some of the shadows. For this effect, we want the shadows to be black, though, and the subjects to be perfectly exposed.
You can set exposure by focusing the metering on your hand under the sunlight. This will set exposure for the highlights and skin tone, which is perfect when you’re photographing people.
*For bright sunlight, my settings are usually at f/11, 1/500-750th sec, and 400 iso
3. Spot Your Subject(s)
What you want to shoot is all up to you.
Maybe you see an interesting person or character. Maybe you see an object like a colorful balloon. Or maybe you see a whole scene unfolding in front of you under the light. Sometimes part of the scene might be ready for you already, but you just want to add one more element.
Whatever you want to capture, make sure you know what it is so you can be ready to capture it at the right time in the right light.
4. Wait until your subject is in the correct spot
Once you have the light, the settings and you know what you want to capture, you need to wait for the scene to come together under the light.
You want the chosen subject/elements to be in the light, while the background, and any unwanted distractions, are in the dark. If you shoot too early, everything might be in the dark or if you shoot too late, too much of the scene might be exposed.
Timing is everything so you want to click the shutter at the exact instant that everything you want to capture has entered the light. I like to watch the area first to see the exact point where the light hits anything that comes underneath it. Then I know when to bring my camera up, frame the scene and click the shutter right at that point.
5. Basic Editing
Once you have the shot, there’s some minor editing tweaks you can do to intensify the effect already captured. I use Lightroom for all my editing when it comes to Street Photography, but any basic editing software will work for this.
Since you’ve already captured the needed contrast in the scene, all you need to do is make sure the subject(s) are exposed well, while the shadows are black. So you probably won’t want to bring up the “shadows” much when you edit. You can even lower the “shadows” if you like. Then make sure you make the “blacks” black too. As for the exposed part of the scene, it will be highly affected by the “highlights.” So you can play with increasing or decreasing exposure slightly to get the look right , while also playing with the “highlights” to see if that helps even more.
This process should be quick and easy since you already laid the groundwork in how you captured the photo.
Sometimes the Scene is Waiting for You
It’s not all about waiting for the scene to happen or a subject to cross the light. Sometimes you can find scenes that are already set perfectly for you to capture with this effect. You just need to look for them, or notice them when they’re there.
Look for places where the light is shining down, but only hitting parts of the scene already. Maybe there’s multiple shadows being cast by different objects or maybe there’s one big shadow only partially hitting different elements.
Now Go Control the Light!
There’s so many different ways to capture different light. The more you know how light works in photography, the more you can control it. And the more you can control the light, the more you can add to your photography.
When it comes to this simple, but intense effect, just take the easy steps outlined here, find a good spot, and capture away!
How do you like this effect? Have any of you tried using this effect in your Street Photography? Tell me about it in the comments below!