about contrast

Discussion in 'Photography Beginners' Forum' started by MACollum, Jan 2, 2007.

  1. MACollum

    MACollum TPF Noob!

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    It seems so straightforward, but I don't understand about contrast. I know what the word means but I'm not sure I know how it relates to photos. If an image has a lot of contrast does this just mean that everything doesn't blend together to the eye and that the subject is distinct from the background? Is high contrast something to strive for or does it really just depend on the look you're going for in a particular photo?
     
  2. BloodMaple

    BloodMaple TPF Noob!

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    A lot of photos you will see from people have high contrast. Contrast is just the amount of color, and brightness of color in the picture. Typically high contrast pictures are more attractive, and low contrast images are less attractive because they look gray.

    Example Of High Contrast:
    [​IMG]

    Example Of Low Contrast:
    [​IMG]
     
  3. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    That's what I would say. Same goes for just about any aspect of photography.

    Contrast itself doesn't have to be with color (although you can use contrasting colors (red/green) to emphasis contrast). Contrast is one of the main variables in B&W photography. High contrast doesn't necessarily mean better. Low contrast can look good as well.

    Off the top of my head...I would say that high contrast would be when there is a very significant difference in the tonal values between the shadows and highlights.
     
  4. Digital Matt

    Digital Matt alter ego: Analog Matt

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    That is incorrect. Contrast has nothing to do with color, unless we are talking about color contrast, which is a completely different topic.

    Contrast is the difference between the lightest and darkest parts of the image, or the shadows and the highlights.
    An image with high contrast has very deep shadows, near black, and very bright highlights, near white. There is a huge range between the darkest tone and the lightest tone.

    Images with a low contrast will have less of a difference between these tones. Shadows will be grey and not black, and highlights will also be a light grey and not white.

    If you are talking about color contrast, or contrasting colors, that is completely different, and refers to the color wheel. Colors which are opposite on the color wheel are contrasting, like cyan to red, or magenta to green, or blue to yellow. Those colors when combined in a photo provide color contrast, no matter what the exposure is, or the difference between shadows and highlights.

    Also, to say that low contrast pictures are less attractive is far too general of a statement. Images should be judged on an individual basis.
     
  5. BloodMaple

    BloodMaple TPF Noob!

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    [FONT=&quot]I stand corrected. But I was describing the way contrast appears, as when looking at high contrast photos, the colors are more prominent and bright, compared to a low contrast photograph.[/FONT]
     
  6. Digital Matt

    Digital Matt alter ego: Analog Matt

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    What about black and white photography? Color does nothing to describe contrast. It's best to talk about contrast strictly on the basis of tonality.
     
  7. Jazz

    Jazz TPF Noob!

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    Good question MACollum, and the subject is often misunderstood.

    <<<... I'm not sure I know how it relates to photos. If an image has a lot of contrast does this just mean that everything doesn't blend together to the eye ...>>>

    Yes, sort of. As Matt said, contrast in photos is about tonality, and the difference between the light tones and the dark tones. If a photographer has control over the contrast, then they may choose, on an image by image basis, how much contrast to apply.

    But I would go further and suggest there are two kinds of contrast in a photo, overall contrast (most often discussed) and local contrast. Some Leica lenses are renowned for their local contrast. I think this means that their separation of similar tones that are near each other in the image is superior. I print in a wet darkroom and the difference between a Leica image and a Nikon image is visible in the developer in the dark, with just safelights on. I’m no camera freak or anything, I’m just saying there’s a difference and I choose to call it local contrast.

    One other note: I think we should be careful about calling low contrast a bad thing. I think it’s a good thing to be able to extend the tonality as much as possible, with more subtle changes between tones that are side by side in the image. A smooth gradation of tones in a photo that has white (with detail) and deep shadow (with detail) is difficult to do regularly (on purpose). If we could print a 15 stop tonal range, it would be considered low contrast, but very high quality, technically.

    <<< Is high contrast something to strive for or does it really just depend on the look you're going for in a particular photo?>>>

    Depends on the look you want. High contrast is popular, it seems, but it’s not necessarily better.
     
  8. ksmattfish

    ksmattfish Now 100% DC - not as cool as I once was, but still

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    Usually when photographers say "contrast" they mean tonal contrast. Tone is the degree of lightness and darkness. A high contrast tonal range doesn't have as many steps of gray between black and white as a low contrast tonal range.

    There is also lens contrast, color contrast, lighting contrast, local contrast, and micro contrast. Google is your friend. ;)
     
  9. BloodMaple

    BloodMaple TPF Noob!

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    Your right. I was just describing color. :(
     
  10. Digital Matt

    Digital Matt alter ego: Analog Matt

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    No problem. As Jazz said, it's a concept that is sometimes misunderstood, or at least, hard to define.
     
  11. MACollum

    MACollum TPF Noob!

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    Thanks for clearing that up for me. When looking at a B&W image, it's easy to tell if it has low or high contrast. I just wasn't sure how it related to color photos, if it was more in the color or the difference between black and white.
     
  12. ksmattfish

    ksmattfish Now 100% DC - not as cool as I once was, but still

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    Think of a color photo taken outside on an overcast day compared to one taken outside on a bright sunny day. Overcast days have low contrast lighting, and sunny days have high contrast lighting.
     

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