How to catch a shadow

What is a shadow and how can you catch one? On a sunny day, almost everything casts a shadow – including you. A shadow is made when an opaque (solid) object blocks a source of light and a dark shape appears behind it.

You’ve got to be quick to catch an outdoor shadow – shadows are only around for a short time. As the Earth turns and the angle of the sun’s rays changes, a shadow will move too.

Have you ever noticed how your shadow moves and changes shape throughout the day? At midday (lunchtime) your shadow-self will be very short but early in the morning or late afternoon your shadow-self will be long.


To catch a shadow you need to make a ‘shadow catcher’.

This is a piece of 24x18cm strong cardboard (the back page of a sketch book is perfect) with a square wooden stake or bamboo cane attached to the back – approx. 50cm in length.

I used strong sticky tape to hold in place. You can use small bulldog clips or paper clips to attach white drawing paper to the front of the board. Essentially a clipboard on a stick – so be as resourceful and creative as you like. Now you’re ready to search for shadows.


How to use your shadow catcher:

  • Firstly which direction is the sun shining from?
  • Explore with your shadow catcher to see what different shadow shapes you can find.
  • Can you focus your shadow? The closer the shadow catcher, the better the image – further away it becomes larger and fuzzy.
  • What do you notice? Shadows have no colour but can have lots of detail around their edges.

To capture your favourite shadow on paper, push the end of the stake /stick into the ground – a flower border is perfect (plus the ground will be softer). You’ll need to alter the angle of the board to frame your shadow perfectly; now your ready to draw around the shadow shape using a pencil or piece of drawing charcoal.


  • Find a sheltered spot with no wind – it’s tricky to draw around an outline that keeps moving!
  • Ask someone to hold your shadow catcher still whilst you’re drawing OR place onto the ground to catch shadows from above.
  • Look for large simple shapes to draw – tree leaf shadows are easier to copy.


More ideas:

Share your shadows on a ‘shadow tour’ – can you try and guess what made the shadow? Or set up a shadow gallery. We enjoyed adding different shadows to our picture to make a collage.

Leave a shadow catcher in place with your sketched image. Come back in 15 minutes – what has happened to your shadow?

Or make a ‘shadow puppet show adventure’ – which characters will you meet?

Have lots of shadowy fun!

Mrs Mitchell


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