Assignment 1 : Contrasts

Assignment 1: Contrasts


Contrast: –

The state of being noticeably different from something else when put or considered together

A thing or person noticeably different from another

The amount of difference in tones in a television picture, photograph etc.

Pocket Oxford English Dictionary

The Assignment brief uses contrast between all qualities for its basis (as opposed to the pure photographic sense of range of brightness) although, of course, these have to been shown visually. Freeman reminds us that Johannes Itten’s theory of composition in art was rooted in the one simple concept of contrast being used as the basis for composing an image (p. 24, 2007).  The aim now is to apply it to photographs.

At first sight the task seemed relatively simple as there is a large choice of contrasting pairs (21) from which to choose just 8, plus one photograph which demonstrates contrast ‘in one picture’. I discovered though that , whilst it was relatively easy to find one of the pair, it was harder to find its required opposite and I’ll explain why when evaluating the photographs.

I chose:


Still/Moving/Both in one picture






Hard/Soft (which also fitted Rough/Smooth)

Contrast 1 – Diagonal/Rounded

a) Diagonal

At the beginning of February this year we were on a short photography trip to the City of London.  I had made a list of contrast pairs and written them on a small index card to have with me as a reminder.   I was looking across the road at the edifice of the Gherkin when these diagonals at the base of the building almost leaped out at me.

I took several shots and this is the one that I think portrays them the best.  I was standing around 34 metres away and zoomed in until I could frame the image as I thought best.  This gave a focal length of 35mm at f11 with a speed of 1/15.  The height and width of the diagonals are accentuated by the relative smallness of the people standing in front (just right of bottom centre).  I didn’t think that the image needed cropping, but added more contrast when editing, with sharpening through the high pass filter.

We then moved on to St Dunstan-in-the-East Church where I discovered what, to me, was an immediate contrast.

b) Rounded

This Church is located between London Bridge and the Tower of London.  It was originally built around 1100; patched up in the C17th; rebuilt between 1817 and 1821 but then severely damaged in the Blitz of 1941.  It was decided not to rebuild and instead, the ruins were turned into a public garden. The tower and steeple survived intact but only the north and south walls remain of the rest of the Church.

A lawn and trees have been planted within the ruins with a low fountain in the middle of the nave and this enclosed space is open to the sky. There is an inner circle of small paving with the fountain in the middle (not working at this time of year) and the surrounding wooden seating is arranged in as much of a circle as can be achieved. I felt immediately at peace as I walked in there from the busy London streets with their large commercial buildings.  To me there was a sense of wholeness and completeness in this space.

It was quite a challenge for me to capture this.  I wanted to get as much a sense of the roundedness as I could but it was a small space. Also, the seating wasn’t exactly round but I didn’t think it was appropriate to start moving things around to my liking. I used my camera on almost its widest setting (19mm) to get as much as possible within the frame, including the fountain in the middle.  Exposure was somewhat difficult because it was a flat, white light outside but darker within due to the seating and trees.  I took several shots at different exposures and, when choosing the image settled for some highlight clipping beyond the windows, otherwise the interior would appear too dark. I tried tone mapping and also HDT using a Photmatix plug-in but both made this particular photo look too artificial.

The green of the algae on the walls and the lawn and the browns of the seating, plus the light windows, provide a much softer and more natural image giving another contrast with the hardness of the  ‘Diagonal’.

Contrast 2 – Still/Moving

a) Still

I took this in front of the Royal Exchange building where I noticed this girl sitting on a bench.  It was a cold day and, with hood up and legs crossed, she looked very statue-like to me as she gazed at her mobile phone.  She stayed like this for quite a while which gave me the opportunity to photograph her in portrait mode (which allowed for her posture). I was standing around 6 metres away from her and the zoom at 67mm enabled me to compose the shot with some of the background context but not a lot.  I cropped the image very slightly when editing – at the top and bottom.  I thought of cropping it more at the top to exclude the background context but decided I preferred to leave some there to show she was still but amongst other people in an urban environment.

b) Moving

I went back to photographs already taken to find the opposite of  ‘Still.’ This photograph was taken in Venice at the beginning of October last year.  I was standing on one of the bridges over the canal and about 38 metres away. Portrait mode allows for the length of the boat and, I think, accentuates the narrowness of the canal and the need for careful manoeuvring of the gondola.  The slight motion blur on the gondolier’s right wrist/arm shows the careful motion here as they move along at a stately pace.  The man at the front is looking ahead whilst his lady companions look around at the sights.

c) Still/Moving (/contrast in one image)

Taken in Venice again near to St. Mark’s Square – in landscape format, which accentuates the flow of people on the bottom right.  A focal length of 40mm allows for the breadth of people.

The couple on the left, sitting on the staging, are obviously discussing something but the man in the middle sits still, gazing amongst the many tourists wandering around.  I cropped the photograph slightly on the left so that the people there are also disappearing off the frame and deepened the blue of his top to draw more attention to him in his stillness.

Contrast 3 – Large/Small

I had various ideas on this contrast – buildings; cranes; planes and a toy tractor against the wheel of my car to show its smallness.  However, on looking amongst photographs I already had I settled on the following which, as it happens, also represent contrast in one image.

a) Large

Capri, at the end of September last year.  I was walking back along the quay towards the return ferry to Naples when I saw this other ferry coming in with its dark bulk and landing gear being lowered.  At the distance and position I was in it looked almost as if its dark maw was going to engulf the people in the smaller boat.

b) Small

Coming into Venice on a very large Cruise ship and looking down at the tiny tug which was shepherding us safely to port.  Contrasts also of white railings and balcony screens against the blue green of the water.  I had to poke my camera between people, angling down to take the photograph (which also shows the sweep of the balconies, giving more sense of large size).

I utilized 76mm focal length and f11 to get sufficient depth of field to see the context.  I thought of cropping the photograph in editing to cut out the buildings on the right but I also think they show the narrow range within which the tug operates alongside these mighty cruise ships. I think this photograph also shows contrast between liquid/solid and high/low.

Contrast 4 – Dark/Light

a) Dark

This is one of the two life-size bronze statues of enlisted soldiers (finished in black), which guard the 1st World War memorial in front of the Royal Exchange Building in the City of London.  (

The soldier is standing on a high plinth so it seemed to tower above me as I took the photograph (55mm focal length in portrait format).  In editing I cropped it because my composition hadn’t been good enough just to frame the soldier and buildings could be seen behind.  I think the cropping I did also accentuates the height of the statue.  I was struck by the blackness of the statue which also reminded me of death, particularly all those brave young men who died too soon and who continue to die in wars far away.

At first I thought of the contrast black/white but, back home, something else came into mind.

b) Light

This small, stone statuette (4 ½” high) was a gift to me many years ago from a friend.  It was made in Kenya and represents a mother and child. It feels good to handle as one’s fingers curve easily around its flowing shape. It is a pale beige colour rather than white so contrasts with dark rather than black.  There are other contrasts here of course when compared with the life-sized dark bronze statue of the soldier – large/small; strong/weak; high/low and male/female.  Predominantly, though, to me it is about the contrast between the darkness of death and nurturing new life.

I had two attempts at capturing it as an image, using a tripod and small light tent with AV priority. I also used manual focus with live view.  At the first attempt I used in-camera flash with a soft diffuser and 85mm lens at f8 1/60th.  However, this gave various points of light reflected from the statuette’s surface.  The second attempt was without flash, in natural daylight 85mm lens at f7.1 1/13th.  When editing I darkened the background and lightened the statuette with the hope of producing a soft glow.  I’m now thinking that the background is too dark. Also maybe I should have cropped it, particularly at the top.  If I did that it would then appear larger though.  I still don’t feel satisfied and would re-do the whole thing but have to wait because my camera has gone away for repair and I won’t have it for around two weeks.  Additionally, I definitely need to know more about lighting in general, and do more reading and practising.

Contrast 5 – Many/Few

a) Many

I took this photograph at the local garden centre.  Focal length 27mm from just under a metre away, which gave a fairly wide angle to accentuate the number of plants, which also disappear off the frame – again accentuating ‘many’.

b) Few

At the garden centre again.  Here I focused in on just one plant with a longer focal length of 73mm to gain almost a macro shot.  I set the aperture at f7 hoping this would give a short enough depth of field to blur the background.  It does represent ‘few’ but I think this image could have been sharper – part of the problem being that I wasn’t using a tripod.  If I had used a tripod I could have used manual focus and live view to really make sure of sharp focus. It didn’t seem appropriate though given the setting.  Of course, as has been pointed out to me, I could have asked if it would be okay!

Contrast 6 – Blunt/Pointed

a) Blunt

Two of the many commercial buildings in the City of London, the one at the back with its blunt roofs jutting into the pale, heavy sky.  I was 35metres away and used a focal length of 35mm in portrait mode to get the building into frame whilst accentuating its height.  The competing angles of the two buildings make it look somewhat distorted, therefore I have done some image rotation and cropping in the hope of getting the right effect.

b) Pointed

One of the many churches in London which now compete for space against the large, new tower blocks which attempt to jostle them aside.  This one had sharp points on its steeples, which pierce the sky in their reach to the heavens. It was very high so I used a focal length of 80mm.  I think a telephoto lens would have been better to use here (if I had one) to provide sharper focus on the actual points. Also f11 probably wasn’t sufficiently narrow enough.

Contrast 7 – Transparent/Opaque

a) Transparent

I also have photographs of ornate streetlights but this shop window attracted me because it was both opaque and transparent.  I was more attracted towards ‘transparent’ because of the coloured shirts that can be seen in their stacks behind the logo.

b) Opaque

I wanted initially to use a photograph of a balcony screen on the house beside us.  This is a newly installed, opaque screen that blocks out some of my view of sky and trees,  However, I decided upon the following.

This is a waterfall in the Glass House of nearby Wisley Gardens, which I visited recently to carry out one of the exercises on shutter speeds.

This photograph of a small waterfall was taken in landscape format using 100mm lens at f11. The shutter speed was sufficient to almost freeze the water so that it looks like a muslin curtain.  I’m not sure whether it would have been better to use portrait format originally or to crop now to give more sense of height.

Contrast 8 – Hard/Soft or Rough/Smooth

a) Hard (and also Rough)

This is a view of a tree trunk in a Churchyard not too far away from where I live. I knelt quite close to it and used my widest focal length of 15mm. F11 gave me quite a sharp focus, which, to me, brings out the hardness/roughness of the protuberances on the bark.

b) Soft (and also Smooth)

A very different photograph here, although the colour tones are similar.

This is a photograph from December last year.  Focus on my youngest dog, Digby, with Dora behind him – both of them having a snooze on our bed waiting for something to happen! I used flash because the bedroom is fairly dark, with 63mm lens at f5.6.   There is the softness of his liquid brown eyes, muzzle and fur, with the mattress beneath him, combined with the smoothness of the quilt cover above him.

I mentioned earlier about the similarity in colour tones between the two contrasting images. I can also see a similarity of roundness of shape between the bark protuberances and how the duvet folds over the roundness of Digby’s head, with the further roundness of Dora’s head behind him.


I have been surprised how absorbing I found this first Assignment.  Of course, it is the first one so probably more anxiety provoking but I also became very involved in the types of contrast and some of the meaning in the images for me.  I gained more confidence in using the tripod and also learned how useful Live View and manual focus can be.  I think I need to be more careful in my use of apertures and make sure that they are providing me with the type of focus I need for individual shots.

18th February 2011