Lessons from the Shop: Building Depth with Use of Extreme Contrast

By Steve Terlizzi
Click photos to enlarge

Version 1Version 2
                           Version 1                                                                      Version 2

One of the major tasks for a photographer is to take what is a 2D mechanism, a photograph, and provide a third dimension to it, depth.  In fact, the task is also complicated because the photographer needs to do it in the context of a fourth dimension, time.  However, we won't discuss that within this article.

There are many ways to introduce the perception of depth into a photo, leading lines; placing objects in foreground, middle ground and background; overlapping objects in the photo, using creative blur; and framing a subject.  But there’s one more technique, building depth with the use of extreme contrast.Levels Adjustment

By creating the highlights and shadows on the subject, one can create a perception of the depth.  For example, the stone is actually a single tone, but the strong use of the light creates depth on the stone.  Since the stone is primarily white, the shadows take precedent to create the feeling of depth.

In version 1, the use of shadows and highlights create the three dimensional effect on the stone.  This approach provides a lot of detail in the shadow section of the stone, but is a flatter image than version 2.

To create version 2, I used a levels adjustment layer (see right) to lose a lot of detail in the shadows but create a more striking portrayal of the contrast between the highlights and shadows.  The selective color retention of the caterpillar makes it look like a microcosm of our actual world.

When thinking about creating depth, don't forget to consider the creative use of light and extreme contrast.