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Using Contrast in Photography - Ideas for Better Photos

Updated on June 11, 2014
CC BY 2.0
CC BY 2.0 | Source
Some rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Some rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. | Source

Using contrast in your photos

By using contrast in photography you can showcase a subject when it's placed against a muted background or where your subject is of a more richer, vibrant colors than that of its background. Our eyes will naturally focus on vibrant colors when paired against dark colors.

Look for tree barks or tree trunks, old wood that is dark and shows signs of weathering.Old wood fences or driftwood are ideal for this purpose and in some cases so is mulch, like the one used for gardening.

You can also use old weathered doors or basically any surface that is dark in color and shows signs of time and the effects of weather. Use of weathered surfaces is highly suggested as they add a nostalgic antiqued look and feel to the shot.

Next, look for any object, preferably a bloom that is rich in color, any color will do, I prefer reds or yellows, and lay or carefully glue it to the found surface. Shoot it as it would normally be seen and go in closer until you are able to do a macro (very close) shot.

Try using diffused light or side lighting since it reveals texture better. Stay away from direct overhead sunlight due to the harsh shadows that this type of lightning creates.

If you can't find any weathered surface then you can substitute it for river rocks or any other smooth surfaced stone, walls or stone works. The color contrast won't be so distinctive, but it achieves a good contrast balance.

Your subject need not be in the center of the frame. The eye will be drawn to it because of its color.For an added effect, look for surfaces on which the paint has begun to fade or peel.

If no weathered surface can be found, you can create your own. There are several products at your local hardware store that can simulate the effects of weather and time, but from experience, the results are never the same.

Depending on how interesting your background is you can include more of it in the final frame but not so much that it distracts the eye from your main subject or overwhelms it.

A good substitute for blooms are color marbles placed against the same weathered wood surface, stone, etc. But remember that the object is to show color contrast by pairing vibrant colors against darker surfaces or the other way around.

Quite often, you don't need to gather subjects and pair them, nature offers its share of contrast. Try photographing flowers against dark foliage or against the sky. By moderating the camera angle this can easily be accomplished. Colorful insects, specially butterflies, offer high contrast when photographed against foliage or blooms.

A good project to try would be to use flower petals, blooms, butterflies etc. and shoot them against a black background. This is usually done in the studio, but an alternative is to place the subject at a distance from the background and using a wide aperture, thus rendering the background dark to almost black.

Contrast Samples

Some rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Some rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. | Source
Public domain image (CC0)
Public domain image (CC0) | Source

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© 2011 Luis E Gonzalez

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