How to use contrast and conflict to take good photos

A straightforward story is boring. A good novel or film is full of ups and downs and twists.

Similarly, a good photographic work usually contains various contrasts and conflicts. There is no formal comparison, and the photos lack interest points to attract the audience, which makes the pictures boring. Without conflict of connotation, photos can hardly arouse readers’ thinking and make people forget when they read them.

1. Comparison between form and connotation

When we mention contrast and conflict, we actually mean two situations. One is the contrast in form, that is, in the picture, such as size, light and shade, cold and warm, etc. The other is the comparison of connotation, such as war and peace, human and nature, sadness and joy, etc.

The contrast in form makes the picture full of expressiveness and attracts readers’ attention.

For example, in the following photo by the landscape photographer Max Rive, the cold color and dark tone on the left side of the picture form a strong contrast with the warm color and light tone on the right side of the picture. The conflicts of light, dark, cold and warm in the picture not only show a magnificent panorama, but also firmly catch the reader’s eye, which is amazing.

Photography: Max Rive

The contrast in connotation makes the photos full of dramatic tension and causes the audience to think.

For example, the following representative work of the famous photographer Mark Lubb makes more use of connotation comparison. Flowers and steel guns, men and women, military and civilians, minority to majority… These symbols, full of symbolic meanings, deeply shocked the hearts of the audience, and made people reflect on the relationship between freedom and power, war and peace, government and public opinion.

Photographer: Marc Riboud

A lot of good photos have both. For example, this classic work of Max Rive shows the conflict between cold and warm, light and dark, and size, which greatly improves the expressiveness of the picture. The connotation contrast between human and nature, which is shown in it, further strengthens the shock degree of the photo.

Photography: Max Rive

2. Common comparisons in photos

In the early composition and post processing, if we find and strengthen various contrasts in the pictures, we can greatly enhance the expressiveness of the photos.

To find the contrast is very simple, just look for all kinds of antonyms in the photos. The antonyms in form include light and shade, cold and warm, size, movement and stillness, black and white, soft and hard, clear and vague, how many, square and circle, etc. The antonyms or contrast words in connotation are more, ancient and modern, artificial and natural, confusion and hope

The following picture is mainly about the contrast between cold color and warm color. The foreground is yellow and the background is blue. The two contrasting colors easily extend the distance between the front and rear scenes and increase the sense of hierarchy of the screen.

The following picture is mainly about the conflict between light and dark. The fisherman’s almost black silhouette is very attractive against the bright river background.

The following picture of London shows both the contrast between cold and warm, light and dark, and the conflict between dynamic and static. The cruise ship track recorded by long exposure makes an original static photo more dynamic and powerful.

In the following picture of Bagan, Myanmar, in addition to warm and cold colors, clear and fuzzy contrast, there are conflicts between ancient and modern times. A hot air balloon full of tourists flies over numerous pagodas that have experienced thousands of years of wind and rain, bringing more imagination to the picture.

There is often more than one contrast and conflict in a photograph. For example, in the following photo, I have simultaneously taken light and dark, high saturation and low saturation, more details and less details, front face and side face, and so on, which makes a photo of Angkor Wat, a popular scenic spot, more interesting.

3. Refine the contrast in life

Life is full of contrast, and one of the purposes of our early composition is to extract these interesting contrasts. In the later stage, we also need to further strengthen and express the conflict in the picture by means of deepening and lightening, adjusting colors and other means.

For example, in the following picture, if the composition is like this, the contrast conflict in the picture is not obvious enough.

Therefore, I use the long focal length to focus the picture on the boat and volcano, and highlight the height of the background volcano with the smallness of the boat. At the same time, the details of the dark mountains and forests in the later period only highlight the brightness of the snow and clouds on the boat and the mountain top, highlighting the main body with the contrast of light and dark.

The next photo is of two spiders on the petals I took. If the composition is like this, the picture will lack some conflicts, and it will be plain.

And I finally used diagonal composition to make up the two spiders that were originally at the same height.

The spiders on it are ready to attack at any time. The spiders below spread their array as if they were ready for defense. When you go up and down, attack and defend, there are some conflicts and contrast in the picture, which makes it more interesting.


1. A good photographic work usually contains various contrasts and conflicts.

2. Contrast and conflict, one is formal, that is, contrast on the screen, such as size, light and shade, cold and warm. The other is the comparison of connotation, such as war and peace, human and nature, sadness and joy.

3. There are contrast and conflict everywhere in life. Finding conflict, refining conflict and expressing conflict is one of the secrets of taking good photos.