Shades of Geometry

My assignment needed me to capture geometrical shadows, and then darken those shadows further in post-processing.. Photograph/Gianni Galassi

My assignment needed me to capture geometrical shadows, and then darken those shadows further in post-processing.. Photograph/Gianni Galassi

Gianni Galassi points his camera at different forms of urban architecture and explores the magic of light, colour, shapes, shadows and form.

This article was originally published in May 2010.

My Assignment

To capture the geometrical relationship between light and shadow by shooting architecture.

It is a work in progress—I have been working on this project since over five years.

Zoom in close to your subject and concentrate on the details, to make stark, graphical images.

Photography is the best way to find out what a person likes. The things that he really likes always come through in his photographs, in terms of the subjects he shoots and the way in which he shoots them. Images help you identify his feelings, thoughts, vision and obsessions.

My Perspective

Over the years, my true obsession has been the geometrical relationship between light and shadow. When I started shooting this assignment, I realised that certain subjects suit this kind of photography a lot more. Industrial buildings have been an ideal canvas for my images. These structures have an inherent beauty that literally explodes when the right kind of light kisses their surface. Civilian architecture can also look beautiful, as long as there is no human presence within the frame.

Earlier, I was comfortable shooting only rectangular images—after all, we all watch television shows and movies on rectangular screens. My thinking changed when I joined, the popular photo sharing website. I slowly learnt the discipline of maintaining balance in a square frame, and have used that format for this assignment since then.

The Process

The two most important things for my project are light and location—I need a good amount of sunlight for the image to work. So if it is a dull day, I sit at home, editing photographs. My images comprise stark shadows that strongly depend on the time of day. I go out early in the morning, when the sun is low on the horizon. When such light hits one side of the architecture, it creates a contrasty shadow area on the other side.

I have made a habit of noting down any interesting places I come across. Then, based on this ‘research’, I sometimes deliberately choose these locations for my shoots. Sometimes, I go back to the same place a number of times, in different lighting situations. On other occasions, I simply come across a beautiful piece of architecture serendipitously. Most importantly, I always carry a camera with me, whether I plan to shoot or not.

Framing is a very important part of my photographs. I recently discovered that the Live View mode in today’s digital cameras can be very useful; I never liked it before. It gives me an uninhibited approach to framing that I did not have earlier. But I do not understand why people worry about equipment so much. I enjoy smaller cameras. These cameras never weigh you down, and their sheer simplicity means that nothing comes in the way of my vision.

In fact, there is something that is far more crucial than your choice of camera— your choice of vehicle. Since I am in a busy urban environment, I leave my car at home. A car can be a calamity in heavy traffic and parking is always a hassle. I actually think a bicycle is a photographer’s best companion. It is convenient enough for me to stop whenever I want, in order to survey the location extensively or get the best vantage point.

I do not shoot too much. While working on still subjects, it is better to wait for the perfect frame. There is absolutely no hurry and I often spend a lot of time at one location, figuring out the best possible way to shoot it. The key is to observe, think and observe again. After hours of cycling, I only get a few select files to take back home. When shooting shapes particularly, you must be careful about everything in the frame, from composition to lighting and the shapes. Once you have ensured that everything is perfect, triggering the shutter is only the final part of the process.

My Equipment

I sold my high-end DSLRs and decided to invest in the Micro Four Thirds format by buying the Panasonic GF1. I also use two compact cameras. A camera that is small and convenient is ideal since it does not come in the way of my vision.

Adjust Camera Settings to Play with Light and Shadow

  • You are not shooting in low light, so you do not need to bother with RAW. Keep things simple—shoot JPEG files, but learn how to optimise them by using the right camera settings.
  • With still subjects in bright daylight, high ISO values do not make sense. Select the least value.
  • Adjust contrast and saturation within the camera so that the amount of postprocessing required is minimum.
  • In Photoshop, levels is the tool you should use. It makes medium-dark shadows completely featureless and black. Remember to maintain a good amount of detail and texture in any colour and in the highlights.
  • Manage shadows as if they were solid objects. It is not just about shadows— a series like this helps you play with colour, lines, geometry and repetition.
  • And, above all, do not shoot. Think!

To see more of Gianni Galassi’s artistic musings on shadows, visit his blog at

Tags: On Assignment, colours, light, may 2010, architecture, shadows, Gianni Galassi, Graphic