Add an Element of Art Design Into Your Photos - Tonal Contrast

December 02, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

A common way to add impact or direct viewers’ attention to the main subject in an image is through the use of tonal contrast. This refers to the difference between dark and light areas in a photograph. The greater the difference, the more attention that area attracts. Varying the tonal contrast in an image can be done locally to focus on the center of attention, or applied to the entire image for adding overall impact.

Initially, the photo “Towards the Light” looked fairly bland, but once it was converted into black and white, the tonal contrast became more apparent. By contrasting the light shapes against the darker areas, the geometry of the stairwell is accentuated and directs the viewer towards the light.

Towards the Light *Towards the Light *Light streaming through an architectural stairwell.

Tonal contrast can be provided naturally, as in the previous photo, or through the use of applied lighting. In “Building Blocks”, a flashlight was used to light up and create high tonal contrast on the blocks and part of the arch. This localized contrast focuses the attention onto the blocks, which are used to form the arch.

Building BlocksBuilding BlocksBricks in old kiln building.

Overall impact can be added to an image by applying high contrast to the entire photo. The shapes and textures of oyster mushrooms are highlighted in “Mushroom”. Here, there is maximum contrast between the lightest white and the darkest black areas, enhancing the curvaceous shapes of the mushrooms and giving an abstract or pop art look to the image.

MushroomMushroomCurvaceous shapes and textures of oyster mushrooms turned into pop art.

Look for areas of high contrast when you’re photographing, or add tonal contrast with lighting sources or in post-processing. This is another method to create impactful images.


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