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    Get the best out of high contrast lighting for dramatic street photos


    The message Get the most out of highlight for dramatic street photos ' s first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

    Street photographers often like the kind of light that many others want to avoid. A lot of contrast lighting is favored by many because of the drama it adds to the action, or the lack of it, on the street.

    Making the best use of high-contrast lighting is a matter of being able to see more like your camera. It also helps to have a good knowledge of how you can manipulate your photos during post-processing.

    Get the best out of high contrast lighting for dramatic street photo ' s young market vendor

    © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    See as your camera

    Your eyes can see a wider tonal range than your camera. This changes as camera technology progresses. Cameras will soon be able to record more details in the highlights and shadows over a larger range. For now your eyes are better able.

    What you see on your camera's monitor when you review a photo is different from what you see on your computer. You will not see much depth or detail on your camera. If you learn to see what your photos will look like after some post-processing, you can take better photos.


    © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    If you take photos by knowing how you will process them later, you can make better decisions while taking photos. The choices you make about exposure and composition can depend on which treatment you give a RAW image on your computer.

    When you look at a scene with high contrast, your eyes see more detail than your camera can record. Because the difference between the light value of the highlights and shadows is so large, your camera cannot record everything. But your eyes will still be able to see it.

    If you understand this when you are in high contrast light, you can take better photos.

    high-contrast-lighting-for-dramatic-street-photo ' s-bike shadows

    © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    Expose on purpose

    Photography in harsh light means that you have to make careful exposure choices. Do you want to see details in the highlights? Do you want to see details in the shadow areas? You have to choose whether you want to get the most out of the dramatic lighting.

    Exposing for the highlights and dropping the shadows in black is one of the most popular methods. This adds drama and mystery to your street photos.

    I prefer to set my exposure manually. This way I know it won't change until I change the settings myself. I will choose a light area to make a meter reading from. Then I will underexpose it a bit to make the effect a bit more dramatic.

    This makes the shadow areas even darker. It also means that less often I have clear areas without details.


    © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    By setting my exposure in this way, I know that I can push the contrast effect even further during post-production.

    If you set your camera to the shadows, the highlighted areas become even brighter. You lose details in the lightest parts of your composition. Sometimes you want to keep this and the details in the shade. You must make a conscious choice when you set your exposure. If you do this wrong, you will find that you cannot manipulate your photos much during post-processing. This is more the case if you use .jpegs instead of RAW ' s.

    high-contrast-lighting-for-dramatic-street-photo ' s Happy Man with contrast

    © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    Use the shadows

    You can hide things in the shadow. You can hide people or unwanted distracting elements in the dark of a shadow.

    Careful use of shadows can isolate your main subject and draw the viewer's attention to it.

    Use graphic lines of shadows created by architecture, trees or other strong forms. The shadows themselves become graphic elements in your photos. You can combine them with the fixed forms in your composition to create tension or harmony.

    Wood carvings in the shade

    © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    See how static and moving shadows appear in your compositions. What do people's shadows look like on the sidewalks or walls as they walk by? Have shadows been created by trucks, buses or passing cars? Do you see light reflected back through windows in the shade?

    While on the road with your camera, think about what the shadows can look like if you add more contrast during post-processing.

    high contrast-lighting-for-dramatic-street photos ' s

    © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    Search for a location and choose your time

    See how the daylight looks in the places that you like to photograph. It will be different at different times of the day and during different seasons.

    Watch the shadows fall on the ground and surrounding buildings. Do people walk in the sun or in the shade? At which points do they emerge from the shadows? Is the light in front or behind?

    Choose a good place to work and stay a while. If you can visit the same location on many different occasions, build a more diverse set of photos. If you do this, you can compare the photos that you take. This can help you learn to photograph your favorite time at that location. Then reschedule it and take even better photos.

    Find a place where the light is as you like it and the background is interesting. Make sure the background supports the style of the photo that you want to take. Is the background in full sun or in the shade? Is the light falling on you attacking you?

    Egg Man black and white

    © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    Move around and view the space from different angles. Where you photograph will look different, depending on where the sun is. You may prefer the sun behind you or on one side. Some scenes may look better when your subjects are backlit. These must be made carefully and not be left to chance.

    If you include people or traffic in your photos, pay attention to how it moves. Anticipate where it looks best. What does the light look like when someone walks through your composition? Does the traffic moving in one direction look more interesting than traffic in the other direction?

    Once you have decided where you want to work, stay there. Being patient is one of the most important things to do as a photographer. Wait and watch. Look for motion patterns and also when these patterns are interrupted or broken. These can be some of the most interesting times to take street photos.

    Fancy Kaftan

    © Kevin Landwer-Johan


    Look at the sunlight and think about how you can finish the process to improve the desired appearance.

    With street photography you depend on the available light. You have to look at it and find the best place to stand. You must then choose the correct exposure settings to take advantage of the high contrast.

    Once you have found a good location and have a few exposures hanging around. Give yourself time and space to really work on a scene. Try to go back to the same location at different times of the day and in different seasons. You will be surprised how different your photos will look.

    We would love it if you would like to try some of these techniques and share your photos with us in the comments below.

    high contrast-lighting-for-dramatic-street photos ' s

    The message Get the most out of highlight for dramatic street photos ' s first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

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