Saturday, October 10, 2009

Fire and Ice: A Study in Contrasts

Contrasts are some of the most interesting subjects when it comes to photography. Contrasting colors, ideas, subjects, whatever, a photos attention-grabbing, conflicting or contradictory nature can mean the difference between just a picture and a masterpiece.

Winter is Here

I'm not saying this photo is a masterpiece, but I think the contrasts of the summery, sunny sunflower and the cold, white snow of winter is appealing. The composition as a whole reflects conflicting moods, vibrant colors against a plain white background, summer subjects with in a winter scene, warmth amidst the cold. A sad looking sunflower in the middle of a winterscape. It is images with that kind of dichotomy capture our attention.

Snow-Capped Sunflower

Contrast also has some more specific meanings in photography, and these are referred to as "tonal contrast" and "color contrast." One gets a photo with color contrast when the subjects include "complimentary colors". Even if we haven't thought about it in years, most of us were introduced to complimentary colors when we learned about the color wheel in grade school. Red and green, yellow and violent, blue and orange, colors that are "opposite" each other on the wheel are complimentary.

Tonal contrast, on the other hand, usually applies to black and white photography. High-tonal contrast photos have black and white tones with very little or no use of greys. Medium-tonal contrast photos have a blend of darks, lights and greys. Low-tonal contrast photos have similar shades, with very little difference between the darkest parts of the photo to the lightest. Though this picture may not have been a study in complimentary colors, but it made a perfect medium-tonal contrast example.

Snow-Capped Sunflower ~ Black & White

Sara Duane-Gladden is a freelance writer and photographer in the Twin Cities area of the great state of Minnesota. 


  1. Thanks, Molly! :D Here's hoping you get your digicam for Christmas and we can start taking photos together!!! :)