Instant Inspiration (31) – Go for contrast

Monochrome Castle

The blazing heat continues across Germany. Photographers complain about the harsh light and mute colors, especially during the day. But as the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, grab salt and tequila. Episode 31 of my “Instant Inspirations” talks about high contrast monochrome photographs.


When the blazing sunlight is harsh, especially in summer and around midday, typically also the colors are mute. Then you have a high contrast between brightly lit surfaces and dark, almost black shadows. Taking attractive color photographs in those conditions might be a bit challenging. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take great photographs.

Happy Girl in front of fountain

Just take a different approach into your photography. Look for those high contrast and use then to your advantage. And think going black and white. The human eye is very much drawn to contrast. If you combine it with a great composition, the viewer will focus on the shapes, lines and textures and the play of light and shadow, and those components will tell the story of your image.

Ghost Town

The important thing is to properly expose the image, to make the whites white and the blacks black. In these situations I usually use spot metering instead of evaluative metering, as the latter tends to try to even the contrast differences and you tend to get gray areas. It is also important to nail the focus, so the lines between the contrast areas stand out sharp. Focussing on the edge of one of those contrast differences works usually great, because it allows for easy locking in of the autofocus. I also typically shoot with a smaller aperture as I want to have a large depth of field in those images.

Monochrome Columns
1/400 sec – f/10 – ISO 200 – 38 mm

It helps “to see” in black and white to compose your photograph. If your camera (or smartphone) has a high contrast black and white art program, use to to visualize the image on the LCD screen. Learn to visually hunt for the right high contrast scenes.

Lady Liberty
Lady Liberty | New York City | 2010

In post-processing, play with the sliders to further increase contrast and clarity, after converting the image to black & white (if you haven’t used a high contrast monochrome program while shooting). You can also increase both the blacks and the whites, and work the gradation curves.

So if you look for something to overcome “Photographer’s Block”, want to shoot something that you have never tried or at least not recently, or simply want to make best use of harsh summer sunlight, take your camera  (or smartphone), go out and try to capture photographs in high contrast situations, already with a monochrome conversion in mind. You are invited to show your results by posting a link in the comment section. Go out and have fun!

For all my episodes of Instant Inspiration and my Street Photography Quick Tips, check out my free Learning Center . 

Have a great Thursday!


Related Posts:

High Contrast Landscape Photography

Portland Monochrome Nocturnal Streets

The Earth from above in monochrome

NYC High Contrast Monochrome

59 thoughts on “Instant Inspiration (31) – Go for contrast

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  1. amazing work nice advices. Your photos rock, i adore the one with the builiding curves and the one in the village. The photo of the little boy running next to the fountain is amazing too.

  2. This is a great collection, Marcus! And thanks for that tip! I hadn’t thought about that. I found myself shooting substantially less on vacation because we are typically out and about midday when colors aren’t at their best. I need to go through them again and see if any would be better served as a black and white! 🙂

  3. That heat wave in Europe is a doozie! I imagine you are missing the Pacific Northwest right about now. Marvelous images, really beautiful!

    Perhaps because I am never happy with my own lower-contrast monochrome images, I am drawn to high-contrast. I never shoot (or process) digital images in black and white, though your photographs may just inspire me to give it a try. When shooting film, Tri-X 400 is my go-to because of its fine grain and high contrast. I find it a bit harsh for portraits (particularly on gray days), though I rarely photograph faces anyway and tend to be more drawn to textures, shapes, shadows, and silhouettes.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on high contrast b&w shooting, Marsi, much appreciated! I do have a Trip-X emulation preset for Lightroom, need to give it more attention. It’s been cooler today, but we’re heading down to Italy anyway to spend three weeks at the Mediterranean. Life’s not too shabby 😉

  4. Great shots, Marcus. I have always been a big fan of high contrast images. I had a bunch of lithographic film that I used for really high contrast work back in the darkroom days.

  5. I learned something here … to “use spot metering instead of evaluative metering”. Thanks, Marcus!

  6. Thank you for this Marcus. No more excuses from me! I have been missing out by telling my husband, ‘Let’s don’t go out now. The sun is too high–not good for photography.’

  7. Great post and pix Marcus. I’m with you. I love the strong lines of a sunny summer day or the harsh low angle winter sun on the snow. Love shadows and silhouettes. How hot has it been in Nuremberg these days? Cooler and wetter than usual here. Allan

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Allan, so much appreciated! We had temperatures in the mid 90’s, but today is a bit cooler. The problem is not so much the heat as the drought. Marcus

    1. Thanks for your comment and the link to your image, Michelle. I replied on your blog as well, like your monochrome conversion better! Happy Independence Day! Marcus

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