How to Get Great Contrast in Photography

By: Dave Roos

High-contrast Photography Tips

A high-contrast photograph purposefully includes strongly contrasting elements. In black-and-white photography, a high-contrast shot will have relatively few gray tones, but lots of strong blacks and whites. A high-contrast color photo might have bright, almost iridescent elements cast against deep, dark shadows, or a single red tree in a forest of green.

One of the easiest ways to instantly increase the contrast of your photos is to switch your digital camera to black-and-white mode. By limiting the color palette, you automatically raise the contrasting possibilities of your images. If you want even stronger contrast, look for the camera's contrast setting. It might require you to take the camera off of its default automatic mode and switch it to manual. When you find the contrast parameter, bump it up to +1 or +2 and monitor the results.


Another way to intensify the contrast of your photos is to choose or create high-contrast lighting. One technique is to shoot your subject in a dark room with a bright light source shining through a window. One side of your subject will be bathed in hot, bright colors or sharp, white light, which will contrast dramatically with the opposing shadows. The classic high-contrast shot is a silhouette.

Aside from in-camera settings and lighting technique, the best way to boost the contrast of your images is to choose subjects and compose shots in such a way that maximizes their contrasting elements. If this sounds difficult, that's because it is. The artful balancing of contrasting photographic elements takes more than a sharp eye; it also requires years of practice.

Again, it helps to analyze famous photos and other visual art for inspiration. Pay attention to how the photographer or artist uses contrasting lighting, colors, shapes, textures and even moods to draw attention to the subject and hint at the inherent meaning of the image. Then get out there and shoot a couple thousand of your own.

Next we'll share a few tips for boosting contrast in color photography.