You can use shadow and contrast to create dramatic images. The key is to forget about shadow detail. You don’t need it. Shadows are meant to be dark and mysterious. This is good – it leaves something to the viewer’s imagination.  
Utilize the dynamic range of your sensor. Expose for the highlights, and let the shadows fall where they will. If the light is strong enough, the shadows will contain very little detail.

Harsh light can make dramatic images

I took the following photo in Bolivia. The sun was sinking behind me, casting a strong shadow that had started to touch the underneath of the old car. The shadow fills the bottom third of the image. We don’t need detail in the shadow, although a little doesn’t hurt. Shoot in Raw format, and in most cases you’ll be able to pull some shadow detail out in post-processing, giving you a choice.  

shadow and contrast

When I see a dramatic image like this, with strong shadows, my immediate instinct is to convert it to black and white. High contrast scenes look great in monochrome. There’s something about removing colour that emphasizes the depth of the shadows, and the drama of the composition. You can add impact by increasing contrast in Lightroom and emphasizing texture using the Clarity slider. Here’s my black and white conversion of the photo above.

  
Look for naturally contrasty scenes

I took the next photo indoors, in an old manor house that had been converted to a museum. The apples were lit by light coming through a window. The windows were small, so the interior of the room was naturally dark, which is why there is so little detail in the background. It’s a high contrast scene – the area lit by window light ,is much brighter than the rest of the scene.

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