Composition Two: Contrast

In addition to the placement of objects in an image, the levels of light in different areas can have a big impact on how a viewer perceives your artwork. I bright blurry background and a sharp, poorly illuminated subject will likely leave the viewer disappointed while a darker, blurry background with a bright, sharp subject will be much more likely to evoke the proper response.

Consider the following two images:

Poor lighting, low contrast
Poor lighting, low contrast


Better lighting, higher contrast
Better lighting, higher contrast

It seems quite obvious that the second image is more pleasing and keep the eye on the flower. This was achieved by using a radial gradient adjustment with the brightest area at the center of the flower and the effect tapering off toward the edges. The flower is also sharpened more toward the center and less as it gets near the images. The background is not sharpened at all. This image as processed with Adobe Camera Raw. It’s great to use natural lighting when you can, but there is no reason to avoid editing tools to make a drab photo pop out.

This next photo had only some mild sharpening and saturation applied to it. It was early in the morning when i shot it and light rays were coming down through the trees. I followed the light rays until i found mushrooms. The shadow from the mushroom fell into the crack in the wood it was growing from which was a lucky break. Shadows are frequently not aesthetically pleasing. I usually carry something reflective with me to help eliminate shadows when shooting macros. A 12X8 inch piece of stiff cardboard covered with aluminum can work wonders.

Mushroom, Natural Light

The next photo shows strong contrast. The grass seeds were separated from the background by several feet and were in the shade of a tree. I used the popup flash on my D7100 to illuminate the seeds. Since there was nothing close to the back side of the seeds the area is dark since the popup flash is only good for a few feet. I love the popup flash on my camera for situations like this.

Grass Seed, Popup Flash

This short article is intended help you think more about the contrast of your images. Before you push the shutter button, look at your subject from all possible angles. Whats behind it, beside it, above it, and where is the light coming from. Is it evenly lit or is half of it in shadow? If you can’t get a really well exposed shot in the field then try to take the shot from the best possible position to get the most even illumination and  use your photo editing software to bring out the contrast.

Remember, the process begins not ends when you press the shutter release. Take the best shot possible in the field, but don’t settle for any image that is less than it could be.

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