exploring with a camera: visual contrast

a repost by kat of The Kat Eye View of the World



One of the best tools a photographer has to create a powerful photograph is contrast. For this exploration, I’m going to define Visual Contrast as the inclusion of contrast in the elements of a photograph that leads to a higher impact. The first thing that comes to mind for me when I think “contrast” and “photograph” together is contrast in light/dark. Here’s an example:



In our study of light and exposure as photographers, this is an obvious kind of contrast. Our camera, which has a limited dynamic range (range between light and dark) compared to our eyes, almost creates this type of contrast for us. For this theme, let’s look beyond light/dark contrast into other types of contrast that are more subtle but just as powerful for creating images.
The idea for this theme comes from Michael Freeman’s The Photographer’s Eye. In this book, he refers to a list of contrasts created by Johannes Itten, a Swiss painter and teacher at the Bauhaus school in the early 1900’s. Itten developed some revolutionary ways of looking at basic artistic concepts as part of his “preliminary course” on art. Using contrasts to create interesting compositions was one of his ideas. While these contrasts were original intended for painters and other fine arts of that time, they work just as well for photographers today.
Here is the list of contrasts that Freeman shares in his book and also in this post if you would like to read a bit more:
point / line
area / line
area / body
line / body
plane / volume
large / small
high / low
smooth / rough
long / short
hard / soft
broad / narrow
still / moving
thick / thin
light / heavy
light / dark
transparent / opaque
black / white
continuous / intermittent
much / little
liquid / solid
straight / curved
sweet / sour
pointed / blunt
strong / weak
horizontal / vertical
loud / soft
diagonal / circular
delicate / brash (added from Freeman’s examples in the book)
After playing with this concept, I also added a few of my own:
old / new or young
bright / neutral
natural / man-made
What other contrasts can you think of? Leave a note in the comments if you have something to add to the list.
Now that you have the list, let’s look at some examples of contrast in my photographs…
Large / Small
This photo is one of my favorites of my son’s early years. It’s one of the few prints from my film days I actually have here in Italy, and I was happy I had it available to share with you for this theme.  I love the large/small contrast between the hands of my husband and son. There is also a parallel old/young contrast in this image.



Old / New
Our travels around Europe have provided us with plenty of examples of contrast between old and new. This image of a Roman theater at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens is an especially clear example of old/new. Millenia old ruins against the backdrop of a large, modern city. Quite a contrast.


Natural / Man-Made
Along with old/new, visits to ruins can give a great contrast between natural and man-made. I love showing decaying ruins along with thriving nature. It makes quite a commentary on the permanence of what we create in the larger scheme, doesn’t it? The opening photograph of the poppies and the Greek ruins at the Acropolis, and this image of a blooming tree by the Roman ruins of Ostia Antica near Rome are good examples.
Hard / Soft


The hard, rocky pavement contrasts dramatically with the soft leaf in this image. The image also includes the contrasts of  many/few and bright/neutral color.


Bright / Neutral


Just being back from Greece, you didn’t think I could go a day without showing some white and blue, did you? The bright blue pot against the neutral white background is a strong contrast of color. The popular technique of a black and white image with selective color showing takes advantage of this type of color contrast. This image also includes contrasts in smooth and rough textures.



Curved / Straight


The straight, geometric lines of the floor contrast with the gentle curves in the walls in this image from Barcelona. The contrast is further enhanced by the softer, underfined edges on the curves versus the very hard and defined edges of the lines in the floor.
Smooth / Rough


The variation in textures is the main contrast in this photograph from Burano. The contrast created by light/dark also helps define the edges and separate the different textures.


That’s enough examples to get you started! I was actually surprised at how many I came up with, once I started looking. Take a look through your archive or go out with your camera and see how many contrasts you can find. Want to share what you find? I have a link party going on my blog right now for this topic. I would love for you to join in!

repost by kat of The Kat Eye View of the World

If you would like to provide a post for this series, please contact mortalmuses9 [at] gmail.com