Importance of Contrast in Photography - Photographic Composition Techniques

Importance of Contrast in Photography - Photographic Composition Techniques
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This article belongs to a series of photography composition techniques. To start from the beginning, please refer to The Big Picture – Photography Composition Techniques.

The compositional technique of creating contrast to enhance an image is certainly not a new approach. In fact, Leonardo da Vinci is attributed as having said “Of different colors equally perfect, that will appear most excellent which is seen near its direct contrary blue near yellow, green near red: because each color is more distinctly seen when opposed to its contrary than to any other similar to it.”

There are two forms of contrast: tonal contrast and colour contrast. Both can produce outstanding results. With both forms, high contrast will create a vibrant, solid and loud image that will steal the attention of the viewer. Low contrast will produce a warm and soft image, creating a soothing or mellow image.

Tonal Contrast

Tonal contrast is used in black and white photography. High-tonal contrast photos are composed using black’s and white’s with very little or no use of grey’s. Medium-tonal contrast photos are ones in which there is a blend of darks, lights and greys. Low-tonal contrast photos use similar shades, very little difference from the darkest part of the photo to the lightest.

Colour Contrast

To achieve high-colour contrast, one can look at the colour wheel for guidance.

(Click on images to enlarge)

The opposite colour is one that compliments the other, resulting in a high-contrast photo. Using colours which are close to each other on the colour wheel will create a low-contrast photo.

If your goal is to achieve a high-contrast image, there are two things you should keep in mind to help your photo’s overall result:

  1. Less is more. Bringing additional colours into the image will decrease the level of contrast. The viewer’s attention will tend to shift away from your focal points when other colours are present.
  2. Ratio Impact. Having more of one contrasting colour will help your focal point stand out, as opposed to having equal amounts of both contrasting colours. For example, a photograph of single red poppy set against a field of green will have greater contrast and impact than a photograph of a poppy set against a sea of other poppies and, accordingly, the poppy in the first picture would stand out far more than the poppy in the second picture.

Photo by thomieh


Photo by mikelens

contrast in photography

This post is part of the series: Photography Composition

To take the best photos, there are many different photographic composition techniques you need take into consideration. This article series on photography composition will provide you with guidelines, tips and techniques to help you learn how to take better photos.

  1. The Big Picture – Photographic Composition Techniques
  2. Give Them Space - Photography Composition Techniques
  3. Capture Photos from Different Angles – Photography Composition Techniques
  4. Don’t Forget to do a Background Check - Photography Composition Techniques
  5. Contrast - Photography Composition Techniques
  6. Fill Your Frame - Photography Composition Techniques
  7. Framing Your Subject - Photography Composition Techniques
  8. Making Use of Lines – Photography Composition Techniques
  9. Rule of Thirds - Photography Composition Techniques