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How to Make your Photos POP! High Contrast in Photography

What makes people stop and admire your photography? What makes your image pop off the wall and say “LOOK AT ME!!!”

High contrast photos have a way of doing both those things! There are 3 different kinds of contrast in photography: High, Normal, and Low. 

Low contrast means that there is very little value change. It could be that the the light is mostly dark, mostly grays OR mostly light. The key is that there is not a lot of contrast in low contrast photos.

Normal contrast means that there are some bright lights, many mid tones, and some darker tones. This type of contrast will likely make up the bulk of your photos.

High contrast means that you have a lot of bright lights and a lot of dark tones with very little middle gray. And this is the contrast that we will be focusing on this week.


When taking photos for high contrast, think drama! Normal or low contrast is bad, they certainly have their place, but high contrast photos have a way of grabbing attention!

  1. The right time of day. Golden hour (if you aren’t familiar with this term click here to read my post on light). One good way to guarantee that you will have good contrast is by taking your shots at dawn or dusk. Not only is the light AMAZING, but you can also look for good opportunities for silhouettes, which you know are going to have good contrast! (SIDE NOTE: you can also simulate the silhouette affect by putting a bright light behind your subject.)golden hour

     

  2. Black and white. I talk a lot about how distracting color can be, and this is one of those cases. Not all photos that have good contrast are in black and white, but there is something about stripping the color from an image that makes it look more classy and contrasty. Try it and see!b&w

     

  3. Contrast with more than light. The photos above utilize tonal contrast, meaning that the photos mostly use lights and darks to show contrastSometimes you can use other elements to add contrast. The example below shows texture contrast. See how the dark rusty medal of the bell contrast with the smooth, fluffy, light clouds behind it? But you don't have to stop there! You can contrast any of the elements in your photography. Line, shape, and color (more on this in a later post) are fun to play with too!texture

     

Post editing. Once you have taken your amazing high contrast photo, you can enhance that contrast in your photo editing software. In Photoshop, the #1 way to do it is to adjust the levels. Cut out all the empty space in the histogram for each of the colors. Then make the “S” curve on your curves adjustment. And if that is not enough, you can always go in and dodge and burn sections of the photo.

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Got to love that contrast! If you found this article helpful, click the box below and download the FREE project outline for High Contrast Photography. Happy shooting! (…with a camera…don’t get any violent ideas out there!)