Five Simple Ways to Use Contrast in Your Photos

By alohal / July 5, 2011

Contrast is a design principle that artists and photographers have used to create compelling, interesting pictures. Contrast is achieved in a photo when two things with visible differences are presented in the same frame. Here are simple ways to create contrast in your photo and enhance its artistry.

1. Find Contrast Between Sizes of Elements in the Frame.

Using scale, a contrast between sizes of elements in the frame, adds interest to a photo. Finding a small element against a larger element brings a sense of majesty and awe to an image.

India landscape flock of birds copyright Aloha Lavina

Scale: birds and a huge lake. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

2. Find Contrast of Values Between Light and Dark.

You don’t have to put your camera away during times when the light is harsh! Setting out to shoot photos when both the light and the shadows are harsh and sharp can give you photos with drama.

deep shadows at the Getty copyright Aloha Lavina.

Harsh contrast in light creates drama. Copyright Aloha Lavina.


3. Find Contrast of Elements in the Image.

Requiring a little more luck and keen observation, creating a photo with contrast in its content can allow you to create a story in an image.

beauty and the vendors copyright Aloha Lavina

Find contrast in content. Copyright Aloha Lavina.


4. Find Contrasts in Texture.

Shiny and dull, smooth and rough—these are some contrasts in texture that you can find and capture around you.  This is a contrast that has been used by graphic designers to add oomph to their designs, and you can use it in your photos to do the same.

grandfather's hands copyright Aloha Lavina

Contrast in texture. Copyright Aloha Lavina.


5. Contrast in Lines

Lines that travel in opposite directions can add interest to a photo. Opposing lines add tension to a frame—the eye is pulled in different directions, adding a dynamic quality to the image. In the next photo, the vent on the top left pulls the eye left, while the direction the girl is walking pulls the viewer eyes right. This type of contrast is a little more subtle and takes practice to find.

girl in ao dai copyright Aloha Lavina

A subtle contrast in direction. Copyright Aloha Lavina.


Adding contrast to your compositions can give your photography that added awesome sauce that you’ve been looking for. Look for some contrast this week, and you may discover it will nudge you toward creativity.

Aloha Lavina is an Asia based photographer whose photographs have appeared in CNNGo (USA), Canon PhotoYou Magazine (Singapore), Seventeen magazine (USA), Estamos! (Ecuador), The Korea Times (South Korea), and several books. You can see her work at her website, read her articles on her blog or follow her on Twitter.

About the author


Aloha Lavina is an Asia based photographer and writer whose photographs and writing have appeared in CNNTravel, Canon PhotoYou Magazine, Seventeen magazine, The Korea Times, and several books. You can see her work at her website and follow her on her blog.

  • Nice. Love the different facets of contrast.

  • IMpopstar says:

    There is contrast of dimension in a good picture but the most obvious contrast is color, taken to the extreme in black and white photography where the light to dark effects combine with contrasting lines as in your 2nd pic here.

    I adore your new idea of contrast of texture – kind of subliminal but worthy of an entire study by itself!

  • Todd says:

    I really enjoyed your article. It’s informative and right to the point. Thank you for opening up the definition of contrast as it relates to photography.

  • rsmithing says:

    Great article – to the point and useful. i link to this in a post at my site I was inspired to write based on the use of contast as a literary device. But its artistic effect is as relevant in visual art, music, or other media. This is linked at:

    As an appreciator of contrast, I’d encourage anyone to share their perspective, having read this piece as well.

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