Tag Archives: photo education


Photo Editing For Amateurs – Part III: Contrast

Contrast is an important aspect of a good photo but it is oft overlooked by amateur photographers.

What is Contrast?

Contrast is a very simple concept.  In non-photographic terms, contrast is defined as “the state of being strikingly different from something else.”  A good example of contrast is how we experience air temperature.  When you step outside your warm house into the cold morning you notice the cold because of the contrast between inside and outside temperatures.  As we spend more time outside we often feel the cold less because there is no contrasting warm temperature to remind us how cold it is.    Visually we are surrounded by examples of contrast everyday.  Neon signs, often hung in dark windows, catch our attention because the light tubes are so much brighter than the dark background.  A stop sign works because there is a significant difference between the white letters and the red background so as to make the white letters easy to read.  Imagine if a stop sign had a dark blue background with purple letters!

How Does Contrast Apply to Photography?

In photography we think of contrast as the difference between the light tones and dark tones in an image.  When we have bright highlights and dark shadows we have a lot of contrast.  A great black & white print with deep blacks and bright whites is an example of high contrast.  When we have a photo that has a lot of tones that are close to each other in brightness we have low contrast.  A picture on a gray, foggy day would have low contrast.

Just like I mentioned in my post on exposure, adjusting contrast in a photo is typically a matter of taste.  How much is too much might be different for you and me.  There are some circumstances where it is generally a good idea to add a little more contrast to an image.  Fall foliage is a terrific example of that.  Increasing the difference between the light and dark tones in the colorful leaves can really make them pop.  As a rule, if you’re photographing your mother I would advise against adding a lot of contrast as it will highlight her crows feet and wrinkles.  You do that at your own risk!

This image of my elephant friend in South Africa illustrates how contrast can affect an image.  The photo on the left is untouched out of the camera.  It looks okay, but it is a little flat and boring.  The middle shot includes an increase in contrast.  Note the additional texture in the skin on the trunk and in the ears.  Unlike mom, this looks good on elephant skin!  And finally, the last image has an a lot of contrast added.  It really brings out the texture on the animal, but look too how it separates the leaves in the trees.  For some people this is too much contrast.  I like it for this picture, but I wouldn’t apply the same treatment too often to too many of my photographs.  If this were a different setting I might think about doing something completely different.  For example, if this were a misty morning scene I wouldn’t want to bring out the skin as much but rather I would be interested in blending the elephant with the mist.  Reducing the contrast in the original photo would be a good way to make that happen.  As always, season to taste.


So next time you’re dabbling with your photos play around with contrast and see how it can enhance your work.  In most photo editing software the basic adjustments are done with a slider so you can see how you are impacting the picture.  Have fun with it!


In my next post I will talk about how color temperature affects our photographs.

photo education

Great Photo Education Resources

I am asked a lot how I learned photography.  “Did you go to school for this?” is a common question from clients who enjoy my work.  I didn’t study photography in college.  And though sometimes I wish I had, there are so many photo education resources available now that one can hone their skills without attending a college or university.  My training was “up through the hawse pipe” – experiences in the field with people and programs that provided opportunities for me to get better.  I’ll share some of my mentors in a future post, but listed below are some of the photo education programs that can help you become a better photographer.

New York Institute of PhotographyAs long as I can remember I dabbled with taking pictures.  In the late 1990’s I realized that I really loved photography, and I wanted to learn more about it and be better at it.  I enrolled in the Complete Course in Professional Photography at the New York Institute of Photography (NYIP).  The home-study program is designed for anyone who wants to improve their photography skills, but is oriented especially for those who want to earn some money with their skills.  The best aspect of the program for me were the assignments.  After completing important lessons students are given an assignment that requires employing the techniques articulated in that lesson.  You submit your photos to an instructor who provides clear, constructive feedback about what you did well and where you may have missed the target.  When I took the program the feedback was delivered via cassette tape in the mail (I suspect now it’s done online), and when I was expecting a response from my instructor I would run to the mailbox everyday in anticipation.  I valued the personal, specific insights because each assignment made me better.  I still remember the foundational lessons I learned in the NYIP course and use the skills I developed in every photograph I make.  I highly recommend NYIP.  They are accredited by the N.Y. State Department of Education and their faculty have some legit credentials.  You can check them out at www.nyip.edu.

photo educationMaine Media Workshops –  In 2007 I had the great pleasure of attending a Marine Photography Workshop through Maine Media Workshops.  I had been working as a commercial boat captain for a decade and most of my photography at the time was on the water.  The workshop was held in Newport, Rhode Island and led by Allison Langley, one of the premiere marine photographers in the world (www.langleyphoto.com).  Each day we had the opportunity to make photographs around town and on the water, and the following morning Allison would critique our best images in front of the class.  Though harrowing, the feedback gave me pointers that I could incorporate into my work that afternoon and, cumulatively, made me a better shooter.  One of the most significant benefits to the week came at the end when Allison encouraged me to do more with my photography.  The strong encouragement from such an accomplished professional inspired me to dive in deeper and become a part-time pro.  Maine Media Workshops offer programs in a wide variety of subjects, ranging from still photography to film making to post-production.  Their main campus is, obviously, in Maine, but they also conduct travel programs in beautiful locations all over the world.  Learn more at www.mainemedia.edu.

140419-274Kelby One I would argue that the internet has done more for photography and photographers than just about any other art or industry.  And I offer Kelby One as evidence to support my argument.  Kelby One is a repository of video training lessons created by some of the most renowned photographers and visual artists in the world.  Pros like Joe McNally, Joel Grimes, and Tamara Lackey and many others offer in-depth workshops on how they make the beautiful images for which they are known.  Want to create better portraits?  Watch Joe McNally’s two-hour program on using flash.  Looking to improve your Photoshop skills?  Watch Matt Kloskowski share his wizardry.  No matter your interest there is at least one title, and often several, that will deliver the goods.  Kelby One is a subscription service and costs $25/month or $250/year.  I can not recommend Kelby One highly enough, as it has been the single biggest boom for my abilities in all areas.  Join now at www.kelbyone.com.

These are just three of the influences on my path.  The good news is that there are countless photo education resources available.  Many community colleges have outstanding photography programs taught by accomplished photographers.  There are skill-specific workshops conducted throughout the country and all over the world that make for a terrific vacation week.  And yes, the internet is filled with articles and how-to videos from amateurs and pros alike.  Look around and take advantage of the opportunities.  Of course, the best way to improve your skills as a photographer is to take pictures.  So don’t forget to do that as much as you can.