Keys to Composition - Contrast

Contrasts abound in this image. The rounded, sharp edged pattern of shapes in the frangipani flowers contrast the soft, more geometric pattern of the branches. The flowers are rich warm, reds and orange, while the background is cool, blue green. Note that the patterns in the image are also complimentary and tie everything together.

In any effective composition, contrast is one of the key underlying elements. This applies in any area of design, painting or photography. As a your graphic design student I spent countless hours with scissors and colored paper, exploring the power of contrast. Now as a photographer, it is visual contrast I’m looking for in creating a successful image.

Contrast is what makes us look and makes us interested. At it’s heart is the human need to compare. A collection of coloured marbles is suddenly more interesting next to a beach ball. It gives us context. We see the marbles are small against the ball. They are hard and shiny, while the ball is soft. The marbles are many and there is only one of the ball.

There are many areas where contrasts can be found or created. Big/small; hard/soft; dark/light; open/closed; colour/monotone; complex/simple, etc. Often, the contrasts in a scene are what attract us. Building them into our composition will speak to the viewer of your images.

The contrast in these maple leaves is between the intense color and sharp edges of one leaf contrasted against the softer focus and dark color of the rest.

The famous tree in Wanaka stands contrasted in sharp black, silhouetted in front of the lake and Southern Alps in the soft light of evening.

A pattern of green circles fills the image. The flower both compliments, because it is also round, but contrasts with it’s pointed radiating white petals and rich yellow centre. If the flower were surrounded by similar flowers, the interest would be lost.

The contrasts here are the bold colours of the balloon and the big circle of the opening which frames the man and children.

Martin Kohn
Martin Kohn