Chiaroscuro ... Descent into Darkness?

February 01, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

A very important element in photography is contrast.  In a broad sense, contrast can mean a noticeable difference in many qualities:  texture (smooth/rough), number (many/few), size (large/small), sound (loud/soft), taste (sweet/salty), frequency (often/seldom), etc.  In art, cinematography, and photography, contrast most often refers to tonal contrast, that is, the difference between light and dark.  Chiaroscuro (from the Italian words for light and dark) refers to the use of strong contrast between light and dark which shapes composition and/or models an object by use of the light/dark contrasts. Chiaroscuro has a long history, certainly dating back to the Renaissance, and perhaps to the ancient Greeks and Romans.  While there are several technical definitions of the term and many artistic interpretations, we most often think if it as a predominantly dark composition punctuated by areas of light.  The light/dark interplay defines the composition and mood.

The image above, of a group of red candles, was shot in a darkened room, with the only light provided by the candles.  The image was exposed for the candles, with the rest of the composition allowed to go dark.  The darkness, contrast, and color create a moody and dramatic ambience. 

The image below, of a portion of a single candlestick, was also shot in a darkened room.  The only light is from a small flashlight behind and to the right of the candlestick at about a forty-five degree angle.  The light defines the edge of the candlestick and candle; it “models” the subject with light. (By the way, stopping down to f/22 created the small starbursts. Of course, using f/22 meant a long exposure, and therefore a tripod was a necessity.)

To my eye, the darkness, drama, and mystery of chiaroscuro are very appealing.  What are your thoughts?

Please feel free to leave me a message … I’d love to hear from you!  And as always, I wish you happy shooting and a satisfying photographic journey!


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