High Contrast Photography – Summer Photography Ideas
I find it helpful to have mini photography projects throughout the year. They can help you to boost your skills and creativity. In this blog post we will look at an idea for a summer photography project involving the use of high contrast in our images.
Summer is actually quite a difficult time to get good photos. Clear blue skies can be boring without any clouds. The biggest problem is the light. In summer, there are very high levels of contrast. High contrast can make it difficult to balance a scene. You can end up with shadows that are too strong or highlights that are too bright. So, landscape photographers rarely enjoy working during summer days! The golden hours can still work well, but mid-day sun is not normally a photographer’s friend.
On reflective surfaces you can end up with especially bright highlights. These are often so bright that they simply burn out (turn to pure white when recorded by the camera). Take a look at the light spilling on the surface of the water above. You will notice that the sparkling ripples on the water are pure white. It is too bright for the camera to cope. The water has also come out very dark. The high contrast scene has give us both blacks and whites at the extremes. This inspired me to try looking at subjects in a new way. What might happen if I tried to expose more for these bright highlights and allowed the rest of the scene to go dark? I could use the high contrast levels to create outlines or hints of shapes, perhaps.
To try out my idea I went to the local park on a sunny day and looked all around me for areas of high contrast. I then exposed for the highlights, trying to retain some detail in the extremely bright areas. This naturally led to fast shutter speeds and dark backgrounds. If you aren’t sure about how to do this you may find my article on metering modes helpful. Some images almost looked as if they had been taken by moonlight as the overall exposure in the frame was pretty dark. It was an idea that was inspired by reading about chiaroscuro. This is an old technique used by some master painters. It basically involves playing with high contrast – dark and light – to create a more moody and unusual composition.
I decided to try both recognisable subjects and a few more abstract images. I challenged myself to capture a feel for the park by photographing some of its key features including its model railway, tennis courts and boating pond. The images on this page are a selection of what I came up with. They may not be my best ever images. But they at least got me thinking about light and composition in new ways. The exercise was enjoyable in itself and it also challenged my skills.
In post-production I enhanced the high contrast levels even further and added a vignette to many of the images to keep them dark and to draw the eye in. Clearly this sort of image is not going to be to everyone’s taste. But, if you enjoy photography and want to find some way of refreshing your summer photography projects, why not give it a go? Looking for subjects and anticipating how they will turn out will get you thinking differently about light. Your camera doesn’t need to stay at home on bright, high contrast summer days. Instead, a new summer project can help to rekindle your interest.
As you can see from these images, you can use quite everyday items and make them interesting through the use of light. So, this summer, I encourage you to try something new. Even if you don’t like this particular photo project, find something that will challenge and intrigue you so that you keep learning and keep producing creative images!
© Joe Lenton, July 2016