High contrast photography is an effect that creates a very specific mood and feeling in an image.

The shadows become darker, the highlights become brighter, and the entire image becomes more dramatic.

In this guide, I’ll break down what high contrast photography is and how you can use it to make your images stand out.

Let’s start by breaking down what high contrast photography really means and how it differs from other types of photography.

high contrast photography

What Is high contrast photography?

If you’re new to photography, you might be looking for a definition of high contrast photography.

To start exploring the high contrast photography world, it’s best if you understand what contrast is and why contrast is important.

Without enough contrast, your image will look flat and uninteresting. With too much contrast, your image will look over-processed and unnatural.

Images with high contrasts tend to be more dramatic looking than images with low contrasts.

That’s why most people prefer high-contrast photos to low-contrast ones: they’re more interesting to look at.


What Is High Contrast Photography?

When we talk about high contrast photography, we’re talking about photos that have deeper shadows, lighter highlights, and more dramatic overall tones. This effect is created using lighting, camera settings, and post-processing.

It’s not necessarily a “style”, butdifferent photographers use different approaches and different tools to create high contrast images.

There are no rules or best practices that govern the technique – anything goes!

However, there are certain “patterns” which are repeated over and over again.

For example:

There are photographers who strictly shoot landscapes or nature scenes with this technique – capturing dramatic skies, silhouettes, etc.

You can increase the amount of contrast in your image by adjusting its brightness, exposure and tone curve or by using special filters or effects while editing.

However, ttoo much contrast can make an image look artificial, so keep that in mind as you explore this technique further

The Three Types Of Contrast In Photography

Contrast is one of the most important things in a photograph. It gives you more depth and dimension. There are three types of contrast:

Lighting contrast – The difference between light and dark portions of an image, which can be used to your advantage by increasing or decreasing the lighting contrast.

Lighting contrast increases the drama in an image and draws attention to the subject. This can be done by adding or subtracting lights or by using reflectors and diffusers. For example, if you want to take a picture of someone outside, you can either put them in direct sunlight or shade them from the sun with umbrellas or other large objects.

Color contrast – The difference between two different colors. This type of contrast gives more life and energy to your images. You can use it to draw attention to certain parts of an image, like a flower in your garden. By placing that flower against a plain wall, you’ll notice its color more than if it were standing up against a green, grassy background.

Texture contrast – The difference between smooth and rough surfaces. This isn’t just limited to material; it also applies to people’s skin, hair, and other aspects. For example, a young girl with smooth skin will stand out more.

What’s The Difference Between Low-Contrast And High-Contrast Photos?

The difference between low-contrast and high-contrast photos is the amount of contrast (or difference in value) in the image. A low-contrast image has less difference between light and dark areas, whereas high-contrast images have a greater difference between light and dark areas.

Tonal range is the same thing but with color in place of value. Tonal range describes how different the colors are in an image, while contrast describes how different the values (or brightness) are.

Low-contrast images tend to be more realistic, while high-contrast images usually have a greater sense of drama or impact.

For example, a low-contrast portrait might have a grey hat that is similar in tone to the subject’s skin, with lots of other areas around it that are also close in tone to the skin, like the background and clothing.

This keeps the viewer’s attention focused on the subject’s face. 

A high-contrast portrait might have a white hat against a black background with lots of dramatic shadows across the face and clothing. This helps direct attention to the face by contrasting it with its surroundings.

The amount of contrast used depends on what you’re trying to do with a photo.

High-Contrast Photography Explained

When you’re trying to create a high-contrast image, you need to know what you’re actually going for. High contrast images are ones that have a wide tonal range. This means there are a lot of different values in the image.

A high-contrast image will look more dramatic than its low-contrast counterpart, but it also has the potential to be a little noisy (or grainy). 

It also needs to be properly exposed. A blown-out highlight or crushed shadow won’t help your image at all.

High-contrast images can be used in both photography and graphic design with great effect. The key to creating them successfully lies in understanding what makes them tick. 

That’s why I’ve put together this guide on how to create high-contrast images using various methods in Photoshop and Adobe Camera Raw.

Perfect Contrast With The Power Of Photo Editing

Photo editing tools are the best way to create top-quality photos. You can easily change the contrast of your photos to make them look better.

With photo editing software, you can adjust the color balance, saturation, and brightness of your photos.

This is particularly important when you’re taking pictures of objects that have a lot of dark or light areas.

You can use photo editing tools to create professional-looking photos at home or on the go without the need for expensive equipment.

There are several different photo editing programs available including GIMP, Photoshop and Picasa.

Each of these programs have easy-to-use features that allow you to control the appearance and contrast of your pictures.


When you’re taking pictures in dimly lit settings or pictures that have a lot of dark areas, it’s sometimes hard to get your camera to focus properly. This makes it difficult for your camera to capture all of the fine details in your photo.

But photo editing software allows you to fix this issue by making adjustments to the contrast.

All you need to do is open the picture in your chosen program and adjust it so that both dark and light areas are equally visible.

High Contrast Photography Tips & Tricks

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with a new style of photography that involves shooting in low light and high contrast. I like to call it High Contrast Photography, and it’s something you can start doing in Photoshop or Lightroom in a matter of minutes.

TIP 1: What is High Contrast Photography?

High Contrast Photography is just what the name says; it’s taking photographs where there are very strong contrasts between light and dark areas. This type of photography is fun dramatic and eye catching when done right.

TIP 2: What Equipment Do I Need?

To get started with High Contrast Photography all you need is any camera that shoots in RAW mode. You’ll also want to make sure your camera can shoot at least a shutter speed of 1/80th of a second.

There’s no need for fancy lenses since this type of photography isn’t about lens quality. It’s more about the photographer knowing how to use the settings on the camera to take advantage of the contrast between light and dark areas.

Achieving High Contrast Photos

The human eye can distinguish about 300 different shades of grey and it can see about 10 million colors. But you need to have good contrast between the object and the background for your subject to stand out.

I’m sure you’ve seen a photograph where the subject was lost in a crazy blurred background. If you want that really blurred look, great!

But if you want your subject to stand out against the background, then you need to learn how to create high contrast photos.

I’m going to show you how I did this one.

I took an inexpensive two-light set up and put one strobe with a blue gel on camera right and another strobe with a magenta gel on camera left, both with 27″ soft boxes and shoot through umbrellas.

I used my Profoto B1 as my main light source and shot with my Nikon D3s at ISO 200 f/11 1/125th sec. I added my slave strobe directly behind me at camera right for some rim light.

Black & White High Contrast Photography

If you have an eye for photography, then you may have been looking at high contrast images. Sometimes these are designer photographs that are trendy; sometimes they are old posters or images that depict a graphic image.

Trying to achieve this effect yourself will be a little tricky, especially if you want to use a computer.

Many photographers shoot in black and white with their cameras and then convert their images to color in Photoshop, but there is another way!

You can simulate the look of high contrast photography by using color filters on your camera to create different shades and tones from various parts of the same scene.

The best part about high contrast photography is that you don’t need a lot of fancy gear to do it.

All you need is a black piece of glass and a white piece of glass. The difference between the two surfaces is all you need to create high contrast images.

When you take a picture through the black glass, only some of the light goes through it while most of it bounces off.

This creates an overall darker tone in your photograph. 

When you take a picture through the white glass, most of the light goes through it while some bounces off.

This creates a lighter tone in your photograph.

Color Image Contrast Photography

The right color contrast photography can make a big difference in the appeal and effectiveness of your website. Color contrast is the study of the relationship between colors. It emphasizes the differences between two or more colors, or a range of colors, to create an aesthetically pleasing effect.

Color contrast photography is used in web design to help users easily read and understand the content on your pages.

Good color contrast photography also helps with search engine optimization (SEO), by making it easier for search engines to index your pages and rank them higher in search results.

The primary benefit of proper color contrast is that it makes your website more readable. Users should not have to squint or strain their eyes to read your text, which can be distracting and cause them to move on to another page. 

Poor color contrast can also lead to bad color combinations that can confuse visitors, such as small text over a background that’s very similar in tone.

Experienced web designers know how important it is for all page elements to have good color contrast photography.

When working with clients, I always make sure that any text has at least a 3:1 ratio of text size to background size.

Contrast Of Light And Dark Photography

If you just want to make a solid image that gets the job done, you can stop reading here. 

If you want to go beyond and get some of the most-talked-about photos on Instagram, this is where we turn up the contrast and kick things into gear.

Tones And Contrast

The next thing we do to our photos is add contrast. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, but for simplicity’s sake, we’ll use the methods built into your camera.

The first and easiest method is to change your settings to shoot in RAW format, if your camera supports it. RAW files have no contrast settings, meaning you get the pure image information without any filters or processing applied to them.

I typically like my images to have a little bit of contrast, so I shoot in RAW+JPEG mode. This way I can adjust my images in post-processing while retaining a backup file in case I screw it up.

However, if you’re happy with how your images look straight out of the camerathen by all means keep shooting JPEGs.

Color Contrast Photography

It doesn’t take much to get the basic idea of color contrasts. With just a little thought, you can make your photos pop with color.

Color contrast is one of those things that seem simple, yet it can be surprisingly complex. 

And how do you decide if something has “good” or “bad” color contrast? 

As a photographer, I like lots of color contrast in my images. But if I’m looking at a book on my coffee table or a magazine ad, then I prefer something more subdued. 

So what qualifies as good or bad? That’s up to you.

Color contrast is really just the relationship between two or more colors . It’s the difference in brightness between two colors. The brighter a color is, the higher its valueand the lower the brightness (darkness), the lower the value. 

Color contrast is also about color relationships — how colors relate to each other and affect each other visually. If we want to bring out certain colors in an image or photograph, we can use techniques like color contrast to achieve our goal.

Types Of Contrast In Photography

Contrast is the visual property that describes the difference between a color and its surroundings. For example, the yellow of the sunflower contrasts with the green of the leaves, making it stand out.

Because contrast is about differences, there are many types of contrast in photography. Here are some of them:

Value contrast. 

This type of contrast describes how different an object’s value is from its background. Value is often described as “light” or “dark.” A white dress on a black background has high-value contrast, while a grey dress on a grey background has low-value contrast.


A great place to look for strong value contrast is in nature – and value can often be found in color, too! Look for shadows for darker values, or highlights for lighter values.

Color contrast. 

This type of contrast uses colors to draw attention to objects in photos. For example, a red flower against green leaves has strong color contrast because it’s unexpected and eye-catching. 

A common use of color contrast is to make sure one object stands out from its surroundings by pairing it with colors that don’t usually go together.

Lines and edges. 

Lines and edges can create visual interest in your photos by guiding the viewer’s eyes toward an object you want to focus on.

How To Increase And Reduce Contrast In Editing

There are many ways you can increase contrast in your photos. Here are some of my favorites.

Toning is one of the best ways to add contrast to your images. If you’re using Adobe Lightroom, then you can choose to tone your image or add a tint. You can also do this in Photoshop using adjustment layers.

To increase contrast by toning your images:

In Lightroom go to the develop module and click on the dropdown menu at the top right where it says “As Shot” (this is also known as ACR). Select “Camera Raw”. This will open up a new tab on your screen which allows you to edit your image further.

In Photoshop, create a new layer and set it as a “Levels Adjustment Layer”. A levels adjustment layer allows you to alter the levels of brightness in an image with more control than simply adjusting the brightness and contrast levels through menus.

How To Shoot A High-Contrast Photo

It’s easy to shoot a high-contrast photo – just use a high ISO setting, and let the camera pick everything else. 

But if you want to control your lighting  and start pushing the boundaries of what you can achieve with your camera, then read on…

You’ll need a tripod for this because it’s going to take some time to set up the lighting. You’ll also need two light sources – I’m using two fluorescent tube lights in my setup, but any two light sources that are different colours will work fine.

Tripod set up:

Take your tripod and base plate and attach them to some heavy objects to make sure it’s stable. You don’t want your camera wobbling or shaking while you’re taking pictures. 

Then attach one of your light sources to the top of the tripod, with the other light source attached at a 90-degree angle on the other side of the tripod base.

Position them both so they’re pointing at your subject, in this case, some pink flowers. Now all we have to do is set our exposure. 

Take a test shot, and adjust your shutter speed until you get something that looks good. For me, this was 1/30th of a second at f5.6.

Create Color Schemes That Emphasize High Or Low Contrast Within An Image

When you’re editing your photos in Photoshop, it’s easy to get caught up in the details of color correction and contrast.

But sometimes a big change is needed to make an image feel more cohesive. 

Photoshop gives you tools for making global adjustments to color and contrast using the Image Adjustment menu. This menu also includes some simple presets for creating low-contrast or high-contrast images.

Tonal Contrast

The Tonal Contrast option is used when you want to make global changes to lighting and tonality within an image. The Low Contrast setting reduces the overall contrast, while High Contrast increases it.

These adjustments affect the entire image, so they are best used in conjunction with other edits that make smaller changes to parts of the image. 

For example, if you have a photo with dark shadows and bright highlights, you can use this technique to create more evenly distributed light throughout the image.

This technique works best on images with well-defined lines that can benefit from some softening or sharpening. If there isn’t much detail in your image, this adjustment will have very little impact.  

A photo with a lot of smooth gradients won’t work well this way either.

Look For Stark Shadows To Make High-Contrast Images

How to Photograph a Person in a Dramatic Way: Stark Shadows

The secret to getting those stunning portraits with high-impact is to look for light and shadows. Think about it! We all know that light makes pictures come to life. That’s why we ask our friends to step into the light, not just stand by a window…

Get your subject as close to the light source as possible. Check out this picture of Chris. The key here is that I got him right up against the window so there were very strong shadows on his face and body that really make the shot pop. He didn’t mind standing by the window because it was warm and he knew I would get the shot.

The secret to dramatic portraits is you need a few different options when it comes to your light source. You’re looking for shadows and highlights. The more contrast between these two areas, the better your portrait will look.