Last year I started a series of articles under the general theme of Images with Impact. In it we are discussing things you can do with your images in Lightroom and Photoshop to enhance their impact. When I got to the topic of contrast I came to an abrupt halt. The more I thought about contrast, the more I wanted to begin that discussion with some real examples from nature. But to do that, I needed some photographs that illustrated what I wanted to share with you. And in Southern California, the types of photographs I wanted are only possible in winter. But it’s winter now. And I’ve been able to capture the photographs that I want, so now we’re picking up the series again.
What distinguishes a photograph created by the serious student of photography from one taken by a casual photographer? Many things to be sure. But one thing that stands out is a sense of clarity, a clear quality. The casual photographers’ photographs are just what the camera captures and are often like looking through a bit of haze and I don’t mean that they are out of focus. It’s the light. The effect may be subtle but it is very real. A more accomplished photographers’ photographs have a special quality to them, a quality that engages us, that draws us in and holds our attention. You might describe it as a crisp quality. (You can click on the photographs to enlarge them.)
(My daughter some years ago as we hiked out of a late spring backpacking trip in the local mountains.)
The serious student of photography skillfully applies contrast in the digital darkroom to achieve this look. But before getting in to how this is done, let’s step back and take a look at how we respond to contrast not only in photographs but also in nature.
In the following discussion I will use examples from nature to illustrate the affect contrast has on us. The idea is to understand how it works so that we can more effectively apply this knowledge to our photographs.