Basic Photography Techniques - Contrast

By: Sandra Jons

The most fundamental overhaul of design theory in the 20th century took place in Germany in the 1920s and its focus was the bauhaus. Founded in 1919 in Dessau, this school of art, design, and architecture was a major influence because of its experimental, questioning
approach to the principles of design. Johannes Itten ran the Basic Course at the Bauhaus. His theory of composition was rooted in one simpleconcept: contrasts. Contrast between light and dark (chiaroscuro), between shapes, colors, and even sensations, was the basis for composing an image. One of the first exercises that Itten set the Bauhaus students was to discover and illustrate the different possibilities of contrast. These included, among many others, large/small, long/short, smooth/rough, transparent/opaque, and so on. These were intended as art exercises, but they translate very comfortably into photography.

Itten’s intention was “to awaken a vital feelingfor the subject through a personal observation,” and his exercise was a vehicle for plunging in and exploring the nature of design. Here is an adaptation of his exercises for photography. The project is in two parts. The first is rather easier—producing pairs of photographs that contrast with each other. The easiest way to do this is to make a selection from pictures you’ve already taken, choosing those that best show a certain contrast. More demanding but more valuable is to go out and look for images that illustrate a preplanned type of contrast—executing shots to order. The second part of the project is to combine the two poles of the contrast in one photograph, an exercise that calls for a bit more imagination.
There are no restrictions to the kind of contrast, and it can be to do with form (bright/dark, blurred/sharp) or with any aspect of content. For example, it could be contrast in a concept, such as continuous/intermittent, or something non-visual, like loud/quiet. The list in the box below is from Itten’s original Bauhaus exercise. A passionate educator, Itten wanted his students to approach these contrasts from three directions; “they had to experience them with their senses, objectivize them intellectually, and realize them synthetically.” That is, each student had first to try to get a feeling for each contrast without immediately thinking of it as an image, then list the ways of putting this sensation across, and finally make a picture. For example, for “much/little,” one first impression might be of a large group of things with one of them standing out because it is in some way different. On the other hand, it could be treated as a group of things with an identical object standing a little apart, and so isolated. These are just two approaches out of several alternatives. The recipe The star of this shot is really the contrasting colorsotherwise it would just be another "rowboat in the water" shot. There were dozens of boats in the harbor that day, but this one was the only one with such great contrasting colors. The white and salmon color against that blue water creates lots of visual interest through color.

The recepie is:

1. To get wonderful light and the soft shadows, there are only two times of day you
can shooteither at dawn or dusk. This was taken at dusk, and that's why the colors are
so vivid (the colors are vivid because the sun isn't washing them out).

2. To get close to the object, you either have to be close to object or on the dock with a
long lens, which is the case here. Put on your longest zoom lens and zoom in so that the
object almost fills the width of the frame.

3. You must use a tripod to get a shot like this for two reasons: (a) it's dusk so the light is
low and you really can't hand-hold and get a sharp photo, and (b) you're using a long
lens. The further you're zoomed in, the more any tiny vibration will be exaggerated and
your photos will be blurry. You've gotta use a tripod for shots in low light with a zoom.

4. The other key to getting a shot like this is composition.

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Sandra is the owner of appareil photo numérique pas cher, the blog which contains interesting camera reviews. You'll find articles to help you decide which camera is the best for you.

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