When you hear the word “contrast” what do you think of? Contrast plays an important role in our photographs – shadows versus sunlight, organic shapes versus geometrical, dark versus bright. When you are creating contrast in  black and white photographs, you must create contrast between the white and black elements {tonal contrast}. When your image has contrast, your photo engages your viewer, drawing them into the shot. In color photography, it is important to portray the contrast between warm and cool colors {color contrast}. Whether you are shooting in black and white or color, contrast is vital to our photographs because it helps convey emotion, add dimension, and create drama and engagement in your photographs!

understanding contrast

Understanding Contrast

Week 25: June 15-21


understanding contrast

We will dive into both types of contrast this week – tonal and color!

Tonal Contrast

Tonal Contrast is the difference between the lightest part of your image and the darkest. This is what you see in black and white photography. When looking at black and white photography, there are three different kinds of contrast you can have: normal, high, and low. Normal contrast will have few blacks and whites with a range of grays. High contrast images contain mainly blacks and whites with very little gray. Low contrast images are flat or soft. There are very little highlights or shadows. You will find mainly shades of gray in low contrast images.

understanding contrast

When looking at tonal contrast in color photographs, look at your subject knowing you are going to shoot the photo in black and white. What mood are you trying to convey? If you are trying to convey a light and airy feel, focus on your whites and grays. Going for drama? Look for the dark tones. High contrast will give you drama while low contrast will give you a calm feeling.

Color Contrast

understanding contrast

Color Contrast is the difference in color characteristics – the way colors in your photography enhance each other. Think back when we discussed the color wheel and color theory. Colors that are opposite of each other on the color wheel accentuate each other. These are called complimentary colors. For example, red and green or yellow and purple. Another thing to keep in mind when focusing on color contrast is color saturation. Colors that are vibrant and heavily saturated will have a higher contrast. Weaker colors that are airy and light will – yep you guessed it – have a lower contrast.

Creating High Contrast Images

1. One of the easiest ways to create a high contrast image is by switching your camera to black and white mode. This will limit your color palette and allow you to focus on the contrasting possibilities of your images. To create a strong contrast, you can bump your camera’s contrast setting a stop or 2. Check your camera’s manual on how to do this.
2. Lighting is another way to add contrast in your photos. Take your subject in a dark room that contains a bright light source, like a window. One side of your subject will be illuminated which will contrast with the shadows. A silhouette is a great example of high contrast photography.
3. In color photography, keep it simple! When you use fewer colors in your photograph, the more dramatic the contrast will be. For example, a red rose against a lush green background.

understanding contrast

This week, your challenge is to create high contrast images. Whether you choose to go the traditional route and shoot in black and white or have some fun and play with color contrast, make sure you share your images on Facebook!
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