Readers Photo Challenge assignment: The shadow knows

“Who knows what creativity lurks in the hearts of men. The Shadow knows.” – paraphrased from the 1930s “The Shadow” radio drama.

“Shadows” is the subject of the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment. Shadows are intangible and lack physical substance but can make bold visual statements nonetheless.

(10/25/19) Lincoln’s Wendy Minn casts a shadow as she hits a forehand during the Tri-City Athletic League girls singles championship tennis match against Tracy’s Quyhn Trosien at the In-Shape Marina in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Shadows are pretty easy to shoot. No special equipment is required. You can photograph them with a top-of-the-line DSLR or with your cellphone. All you need is a strong, unfiltered. light source. Sunny days are the usually the best source of light to create shadows. Try to avoid cloudy or overcast skies which can make indistinct shadows or even eliminate them all together.

(1/13/16) A cyclist casts a long shadow as he rides along Scotts Avenue at Center Street in downtown Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

With the sun being mostly overhead the main place to look for shadows is the ground, but if you wait for the early morning or late afternoon setting sun, then shadows can be cast up against vertical surfaces such as an exterior wall. Or you can have long shadows on the ground which can be more visually interesting. You also get an added benefit of having a warmer, more pleasing quality of light at those hours.

(1/15/14) A boy plays in the surf at Torrey Pines State Beach in La Jolla. (Top) An example of the darker background of the shadow of an oncoming wave blending into the silhouette of the boy resulting in his head appearing to disappear. (Bottom) The boy is separated from any other silhouetted portion of the photo resulting in a much stronger, more readable picture. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

In addition to shadows, silhouettes are also acceptable for this challenge, after all a silhouette is the shadow side of whatever subject you’re photographing. What both shadows and silhouettes have in common is that you have to be careful not to intersect other shadows and/or silhouettes with what you’re shooting. Too many things that overlap your subject will obscure it and ruin your shot. Look for clean lines and shapes on relatively clutter-free surfaces. The shadow has to stand out prominently in the composition.

(11/2/14) Pily Romero with the Aztec group Ocelotl Iscali casts a shadow on the ground as she performs an Aztec dance with the group at a Dia De Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, celebration at De Carli Square in downtown Stockton The dancer’s feet are closer to the ground which makes the shadows there sharper than the shadows farther out of her headdress which is fuzzier. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

If you’re creating a shadow with an artificial light source like an indoor lamp there a couple of things to consider. First, the farther away the light is from your subject, the less distinct the shadow will be. Try to get it as close as possible. The second consideration sounds similar but is just the opposite. It applies to outdoor shadows as well as indoors, the farther away your subject is away from where the shadow is being cast, eg. a wall or the ground, the fuzzier its edges will be. To get the sharpest shadow, try to place your subject as close as possible to whatever surface you’re trying to cast it upon.

(7/3/06) Boy Scout Daniel Goldberg’s shadow is cast against a flag as he salutes it before it is burned in a flag retirement ceremony held by Troop 515 at Lincoln Park in Tracy. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

For this challenge the shadow has to be prominent in your photo and not just an incidental part of it. It has to the main reason for your image beyond a shadow of a doubt.

(4/15/18) A small stand of poppies cast shadows on the pavement near the Visitors Center at the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

How to enter:

1. Entries can be emailed to The preferred format is jpeg. Type in “Shadow” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be taken between June 21 and August 4.

3. The number of photos is limited to 10.

4. Include your name (first and last), hometown, the kind of device you used, how you got your close up and where the photo was taken (eg.: John Doe of Stockton, Canon Rebel T6i with 50mm macro lens. At Victory Park in Stockton).

5. If there is a recognizable person or persons in the photo please identify them (name, age, hometown) and describe what is going on in the photo (eg.: “Jane Done, 9, casts a shadow on the sidewalk at Victory Park in Stockton”). Please indicate how they are related to you (friend, mother, father, daughter, son, etc).

6. Please feel free to include any interesting anecdotes or stories on how you took the picture.

7. The deadline for submission is August 4. The top examples will be published on August 11 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day at

(7/18/18) Riders and their horses throw shadows against the wall of the arena during a practice of the Escaramuza Flor de Gardenia horse riding team start at Elda Padilla’s ranch in French Camp. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

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