I read a short article today in which the writer wonders why so many photographers seem to fear shadows. He calls it being "shadowphobic." He believes much of today's photography has become mundane because of this near-universal outbreak of shadowphobia.
The writer takes aim at all kinds of photography, from portraiture to HDR and it's ability, through multiple exposures of the same image, for capturing a dynamic range which allows us to see "...every single pixel in every single shadow."
Regarding HDR, I'm not an HDR photographer nor am I a particularly big fan of the technique. I've seen some HDR images that are very cool. I've seen plenty that are not so cool. Personally, I've never attempted HDR. It's not that I'm down on HDR. It's cool when it's cool. It just doesn't much interest me. That might have something to do with me being a portrait photographer and HDR's fairly narrow and limited use for most portrait shooting.
So, let's get back to this shadow thing and photographers being "shadowphobic," as the writer of the article contends: First off, I'm not sure it's a fair assessment to say many shooters have shadowphobias. What I do think is going on is that many photographers, especially newer photographers, shy away from shadows because they're not yet fluent in lighting.
The language of lighting is one which nearly all people, photographers or not, naturally understand. Far fewer people, however, know how to speak with lighting. Lighting fluency doesn't automatically happen. Just because we naturally understand the language of lighting doesn't mean we naturally know how to speak with it. Hey! It takes time to learn to speak with light! It takes time and study and practice. A lot of practice!
Many photographers seem to think that finding or creating beautiful light (whatever that is) is the goal. For me, beautiful light covers such a broad spectrum of lighting. Beautiful light can be soft and creamy. It can also be harsh and specular. Beauty, as they say, is in the minds of the beholders. When I'm looking to create or take advantage of beautiful light, it's the intent of the image and the context of the emotions and attitudes of my subjects which makes me decide what kind of light is most beautiful for any given photo. There are times, of course, when I let whatever type of beautiful light that's available, via the natural or environmental light that's present, dictate the emotions and the attitudes I direct my models to project.
Low-key lighting employing a heavy dose of shadows, for example, says one thing to viewers while high-key lighting, nearly void of shadows, says something entirely different. Viewers naturally understand what's being said whether they're able to verbalize their understanding or not. The more fluent in lighting a photographer becomes, the easier it is for viewers to understand what's being said with the lighting the shooter employed or took advantage of. (When such lighting is naturally present.)
You see, the language of lighting doesn't speak with words, it speaks with emotions and feeling. If the writer of the article I read is correct, i.e., he's correct about so much of today's photography being mundane, it's not necessarily because photographers have become shadowphobic. It's more because photographers don't work hard enough at becoming light-fluent. (As well as fluent in the other languages used in photography.) Consequently, many images end up being short on feeling and emotion. Sometimes, even when the subject is projecting plenty of feeling and emotion! That, above all else, is what makes many photographs mundane, certainly in most any kind of portraiture.
If you want to learn more about becoming fluent in lighting and in the other "languages" used by photographers, my e-books, Guerrilla Glamour, Guerrilla Headshots, and Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography all include much in the way of helping you learn to become fluent in the many ways photographers communicate with their imagery. My books might not be the "Rosetta Stone" of photography's many languages but, in more than a few ways, they try to be.
Sorry for the shameless plug.
The pretty girl at the top is my friend, Kori. (Click to enlarge, right-click and open for an even larger pic.) I snapped it in my studio a while back. (When I still had a studio.) As cliche as boas are, I had a white one and a black one I had picked up at an estate sale. They were probably from the 1940s, possibly earlier. The feathers were real, unlike many boas you find these days. I thought they were kinda cool -- I'm into vintage stuff, tho not necessarily vintage chick stuff -- so I bought them and decided to use them a couple of times... as cliche as they might be.