How to Use Different Types of Contrast in Photography
Contrast is one of the most
important features of a photo and represents the difference between two
adjacent elements. A photo may be considered a collection of points with
different amounts of brightness and color. At the same time, a photo may be
considered a collection of geometric elements such as shapes and lines. Last
but not least, a photo may be considered a collection of subject matter such as
people, objects, sky, and forest. Contrast is a concept that applies to all
these elements, irrespective of their importance.
Contrast ranges from low (a small perceived difference between two adjacent elements) to high (a large perceived difference between two adjacent elements). Each level
of contrast creates a specific mood and has its role in creating a well-balanced
composition and an interesting photo. For example, low contrast is associated
with soft, dreamy moods, while high contrast is dramatic and impetuous. You
should consider contrast from the moment you take a photo and not just during
Include contrast in your
In photography, there are four
types of contrast. Tonal and color contrast refer to the smallest elements of a
photo: points with luminance and hue. Pattern contrast refers to larger areas
of a photo and is deeply connected with geometric features. Conceptual contrast
refers to objects or abstract concepts with significance to people. Here’s
everything you need to know to compose your photos with contrast in mind.
Tonal contrast represents the
difference in luminance between two adjacent points. It’s the basic contrast
between white and dark points, bright and dark areas of the image, shadows and
highlights. Tonal contrast is connected to the image’s dynamic range and is an
important part of achieving photos with good exposure. Most of the time, you’ll
want sharp images that are well exposed and with a wide dynamic range. But for
artistic purposes, you may also want low-key or high-key photos (photos with
very low tonal contrast) or photos with high tonal contrast (for example,
dramatic black and white photos).
Color contrast represents the
visual difference between colors. The highest contrast is created by
complementary colors, or colors that cancel each other when mixed and produce
white or black. The most popular color system in digital photography, RGB, has red–green,
yellow–purple, and orange–blue pairs of complementary colors. The CMY color
system, used in printers, has red–cyan, green–magenta, and yellow–blue pairs.
You can find out the level of contrast between two colors using the color
wheel, a chart that represents the relationships between colors and that is
attributed to Sir Isaac Newton.
Differences in the orientation
of patterns change the weight of elements and impact the composition. Pattern
contrast is frequently used in architecture, fashion, and commercial
photography. It emphasizes the properties of surfaces and materials and
attracts the viewer towards a specific part of the image. Although you can add
textures and change patterns in post-processing, pattern contrast works best
when created directly in the camera.
Conceptual contrast relates to
messages conveyed by your subject matter. It’s determined by commonly accepted
concepts but also by how each viewer interprets your photo. For example, such as old/young, rich/poor, healthy/sick, happy/sad,
beautiful/ugly, and clean/dirty create conceptual contrast. You can find a long
list of converses that enhance a composition solely through.
Adjust tonal and color contrast in post-processing
Tonal and color contrast can
be adjusted using a photo editor. Most editors allow you to control the
difference between bright and dark areas of the image and increase or decrease
tonal contrast. You can also adjust hue and saturation, replace colors, and
control individual color channels.
Editors like Luminar AI go even
further and provide advanced contrast tools that allow you to individually
adjust highlights, midtones, and shadows. Moreover, Luminar AI lets you decide
which areas are treated as highlights, midtones, and shadows. The result is
sharp, natural-looking images and endless possibilities to achieve your
Luminar AI also allows you to
enhance color contrast. All you have to do is choose a color you want to
lighten and the complementary color will automatically be darkened. You control
the amount and the hue of the effect. Other color adjustments are also
available, such as color balance, tone, color warmth, and hue shift.
Do you need special equipment to achieve contrast in
Contrast isn’t just a matter
of light and shadows, perfect exposure, and sharp details. It’s also a matter
of composition, working with juxtaposition, and choosing the right elements and
the best angle for your frame. It starts in the camera and ends in post-processing.
Choose an image editor dedicated to photography that provides a wide range of
tools for editing contrast. Luminar’s Smart Contrast tool automatically
enhances contrast while preserving colors and details. At the same time, it
includes advanced tools for adjusting each aspect of an image: highlights,
shadows, midtones, hue, saturation, brightness, and tone. No matter what
software you pick, look for a complete solution that allows you to transform
your vision into reality, deliver high-quality images, and implement both
subtle adjustments and spectacular effects.