Contrast and the Image
Image contrast plays a vital role upon image and color outcomes. Adjusting video contrast and photography contrast benefit color more effectively than any other software adjustment.
After almost two decades of educating photographic students at University level one of the most common sayings I use to tell my students is this:
“If in doubt, add some contrast”
Contrast is the relationship or difference in brightness between neighbouring tones. A black and white checkered flag is high in contrast, a mid-grey and a dark grey striped flag is lower in contrast, a white ball sitting in snow is low contrast, a white ball on a black background is high contrast.
But the most important aspect about image contrast in post shooting editing is that contrast acts as a supporting foundation for the saturation and depth of color, with lower risks of losing detail than adjusting color modifying tools alone.
Increasing contrast will always increase the appearance of saturation in color.
The Image above contains a full dynamic range of tones. The contrast of the image has not been modified. However, the image contrast below contains noticeable differences to the appearance of color.
Only Contrast has been increased on the above image resulting in an appearance of more color whilst retaining image detail without the risk of over saturating the colors.
Conversely, reducing contrast will always reduce the impact of color.
A large proportion of color issues can be resolved with adjusting contrast and not adjusting color, because color relies on what is behind it.
Increasing contrast will add depth and sharpness to an image. This is also known as luminance sharpening.
A reduction in contrast will often open up shadow detail but can be at the expense of flattening out highlight detail and texture.
Contrast increases are most noticeable and potentially destructive in shadow tones rather than highlights.
Most contrast adjustments can me made globally, meaning across the entire range of tones in a scene, or, contrast adjustments can be performed more locally such as highlight, mid tone, and shadow contrast adjustments that are independent to other tonalities.
Please note – Contrast is not isolated to subject matter alone – The contrast and the lighting of the scene can vary dramatically.
Full sunlight is high in contrast.
Sunrise and sunset is often high in contrast. Not only because the sun may not be covered by cloud, but primarily because the light is very low and causes peaked out bright highlights and more resulting shadows, thus, more contrast.
A full clouded sky in winter is lower in contrast.
A full clouded day and fog is very low in contrast.
Sun shining through a thin cloud cover is often the perfect contrast.
NOTE – Although an image or scene may be low in contrast it should still have a full tonal range.
Always take it easy with your contrast adjustments, but as this post first started out, if in doubt, add some contrast, and assess the outcomes.
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