Sponsored Tip: Global vs. Local Contrast

By Brian Dilg, Courtesy of New York Film Academy Photography School
This tip article by Brian Dilg, comes to us courtesy of New York Film Academy Photography School, where he serves as the Chair of the New York Film Academy Photography Conservatory. Dilg is an internationally published and collected photographer and award-winning filmmaker with over 20 years of professional teaching experience around the world.

While the term “contrast” is familiar to anyone who has adjusted their television, it is also commonly misunderstood in terms of how it affects photographs. If you turn up a “contrast” control on your camera or in your image editing software, what you’re doing is pushing all your midtones towards black or white. If you begin with a very flat image that is all midtones, this can be an effective way to expand the tonal range of the image and produce a better-defined image. (Compare the unadjusted and enhanced-contrast and clarity versions of the image.)

Pushed far enough, you would eventually end up only with black or white, and no midtones at all. A U-shaped histogram would result. (See the “extreme” contrast version)

Where contrast is often misapplied is when photographers want to bring out detail in areas that are muddy because they consist of very similar tones. Adding contrast seems to make sense

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