Ian Plant • Nyctophobia

Don’t be afraid of the dark when making pictures. As Ian Plant reveals, negative space and silhouette can be important compositional tools, allowing you to create moody and artistic images

Caves have always fascinated me, even long before I first picked up a camera. Most caves aren’t that impressive – often being small, damp and smelly – but some of the larger caves can be truly magnificent. Unfortunately, most caves prove to be difficult photography subjects, as one thing critical for photography, light, is too often lacking. Besides, most of us aren’t really all that comfortable wandering around in dark places. Nyctophobia – fear of the dark – is something we all suffer from, even if just a little bit. But our fear of the dark extends beyond the natural world; it seems that our photography, too, suffers from a fear of darkness, especially in the age of high dynamic range imaging and exposure blending. Too often, digital photographers banish shadows from their photos, leaving us floundering in a sea of uncannily bright HDR images. Not me: instead, I prefer to embrace the dark side.

Artists have long used something called negative space, the 'empty' space around and between objects within a composition, to form interesting or artistically relevant shapes. Negative space is not always dark, but it often is, the most prevalent example being the use of dark negative space to produce a silhouette of a subject. But the artistic use of darkness isn’t just limited to negative space. I especially enjoy making ...

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About Author


Ian Plant is a full time professional nature photographer, writer, and adventurer. His work has appeared in numerous magazines, books and calendars, and he is a frequent contributor to Popular Photography and Outdoor Photographer magazines, among others.

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