Looking for guides on how to shoot high contrast photography? Learn more with our latest tips for 2020.
An easy way to make a photo more interesting is to introduce some form of stark contrast: liquid/solid, hard/soft, delicate/brash.
Composition refers to the way the various elements in a scene are arranged within the frame. Challenges will focus on setting up the shot and developing our personal composition style; styles which can become our trademark. Developing your Composition will allow you to set the stage to generate a reaction from your audience.
High contrast photography involves using strong contrast elements in your photo. The easiest and most common use of contrast is through tonal contrast, where black and white elements are juxtaposed alongside one another, such as in low key photography. These kinds of photos will have a lot of blacks and whites while minimizing the overall amount of gray tone between elements or subjects.
While the most common type of contrast is tonal, other photographers will use high contrast to make a specific subject or element stand out in a picture. Examples of this include a red umbrella against a rainy backdrop or the vibrant purples of a flower standing out from a garden.
Contrast is often associated with color, but textures and shapes are other elements to consider when creating a high contrast photo.
Like I mentioned, high contrast focuses on the brights and darks of a photo. If you were to look at the histogram, a normal photo covers the highlights, shadows, mid-tones and everything in between. In contrast (pun intended), high contrast photographs push the light tones in the middle to the sides to create those extremes.
Shooting a high contrast photograph doesn’t take a lot of skill, just a little preparation and adjustment of your camera settings.
To achieve tonal contrast, you can adjust your contrast settings in your DSLR camera to shoot in black-and-white mode, reducing the amount of color editing work after the shoot.
If you’re looking for a more striking color contrast, adjust the contrast parameter and bump it up by +1 or +2 for a more pronounced effect by changing it from automatic mode to manual.
You should also take into consideration the composition of your photo by placing elements and subjects in a manner which will maximize their contrast. Barring outdoor shots, you can create a higher level of contrast through a single source of light in an otherwise dark room. I use the Rembrandt Lighting Technique to this effect in a previous photography challenge using the light from photography studio lights, but you can use natural light in the room if it’s is strong enough.
If you plan on shooting outside, you should stick to more enclosed areas such as streets or alleyways in the case of urban photography.
The sun is the other biggest factor in producing high contrast photos; try to shoot in the morning or evening golden hours as the lower angle of the sun creates longer shadows to intensify the look of the picture.
It’s also recommended to underexpose the photo through enabling the manual metering mode on your DSLR camera by one or two stops.
This week’s photography challenge was more challenging than anticipated (pun intended again). Here in Michigan the weather has been overcast for the past few days, making it hard to perform tonal contrast.
As I was walking through the house I noticed that my favorite model was sleeping in his cat bed right below the bedroom window, which was all that I needed to snap a few quick photos.
I didn’t think about this when I was shooting, but the cream color of his bed makes for the perfect contrast to his brown and black fur patches.
Initially I planned on desaturating the entire photo for a more pronounced tonal effect but decided against it after seeing the results in Adobe Lightroom.
If you haven’t check out my editing video already, below are the edits I made to the images for this week’s photography challenge:
My photo editing style didn’t fluctuate much from previous weeks. In fact, I performed no color edits whatsoever this week other than increasing the vibrance and saturation by +30 as per usual.
Here are a few takeaways when shooting high contrast photos:
What did you think of this week’s photography challenge? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below along with any photos that you’ve shot in high contrast! If you haven’t already, be sure to check out last week’s photography challenge where I explored not looking at your photo after shooting or next week's Michigan cider mill photography challenge.