We’ve all heard the saying “opposites attract”. Looking around, you could probably make a pretty compelling argument that the saying holds true. I mean, what else could possibly explain chocolate covered pretzels tasting good? I rest my case.
Good photographers know how to use opposites in a picture. By the way, I’ve deliberately used the term “opposites” rather than “contrast” because the latter is generally more narrowly defined in photography. You can build in opposites before, during and after the shot. Here are just a few of the many ways how:
Light and dark. Photography is all about lighting. Notice the shadows on the dunes below. I waited for what I considered to be the right balance of light and shadow on the dunes before taking this picture. It remains one of my favorite images. Without the shadows, the picture would have been much less dynamic.
Moving and Still. It is no secret that combining moving and stationary elements can make a photo more interesting. (See my other blog article on including movement in your images). Moving water, clouds, vehicle or people all work. You need to select the right shutter speed to blur the moving object (depends on a variety of factors, but initially think in ranges of 1/15 to 1/125). You also need to make sure your camera is stationary to keep the still objects sharp, given your shutter speed. So a tripod may be needed.
Sharp and Blurred. Notice the eyes of the subject are sharp (and higher contrast) while the doorway is quite blurry (and lower contrast). This directs your attention to the eyes and away from the doorframe. During shooting, you can do this by selection of wider aperture or by positioning yourself closer to the subject and leaving more distance between the subject and the background. You can also create or accentuate this during post-processing.
Warm and Cool. Orange, yellow and red are considered warm colors. Blue is a cool color. A movement across your image of cool colors to warm colors can add dimension. This can occur naturally with low, angled sunlight. However, this is generally something you can do during post-processing. Just don’t get carried away. The image below starts cooler at the bottom and gets warmer towards the top.
Lastly, creatively including opposite concepts or characteristics in the image (fast and slow, old and new, etc) can work well for conceptual pictures.