How To Add Contrast To Landscape Photos

Sunrise in the Mojave / Photo by Steve Berardi

Sunrise in the Mojave / Photo by Steve Berardi

Adding contrast to a landscape photo is one way to make it a more compelling image. When we think of the word “contrast” we usually think about contrasting colors or brightness. But, there’s also another type of contrast that you can capture in your images: subjective contrast.

Here’s a quick look at the different types of contrast and how you can capture them in your images:

Color Contrast

The most common way of adding more contrast to your images is photographing a scene with strong contrasting colors. With landscape photography, this is usually pretty easy to do around the “golden hours” — where you’ll likely have some of your scene in the shade while the rest of the scene is extra saturated with that warm light of sunrise or sunset.

Sunrise and Moonset in the Mojave Desert / Photo by Steve Berardi

Sunrise and Moonset in the Mojave Desert / Photo by Steve Berardi

For example, the image above shows strong color contrast between red, white, and blue. The rocks were red in this scene because of the warm light of sunrise. And, this red contrasts well with the blue sky. If I waited until later in the day to photograph this scene, then those rocks would have been brown (which doesn’t contrast as well with the blue sky).

Brightness Contrast

Another way to add contrast to your landscape images is to photograph a scene when there’s a strong variation of brightness levels. This is the perfect situation for black and white images, because converting an image to black and white helps de-emphasize color and at the same time it strongly emphasizes differences in brightness.

Photo by Steve Berardi

Photo by Steve Berardi

For example, in the image above there wasn’t much color contrast in the original scene, but there was a strong difference in brightness between the tree and sky. So, I decided to emphasize that contrast by converting the image to black and white (the blue sky became white and the green tree turned black).

Subjective Contrast

The least obvious type of contrast is “subjective” contrast. This simply means that you have at least two subjects in your image that contrast with each other.

Spring in the Mojave / Photo by Steve Berardi

Spring in the Mojave / Photo by Steve Berardi

For example, the image above shows subjective contrast between two seasons: spring and winter. In the foreground, you can see a bunch of wildflowers that are blooming in the desert (representing spring). And, then in the background you can see a distant mountain covered in snow (representing winter).

What did I miss?

Is there another type of contrast that you like to capture in your landscape images? If so, please share it with us by leaving a comment below, thanks! :)

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steveb2About the Author: Steve Berardi is a naturalist, photographer, software engineer, and founder of PhotoNaturalist. You can usually find him hiking in the beautiful mountains and deserts of southern California.


  1. Hi
    Can you give us your photostream for landscape?



  2. Bipin B. Gupta says:

    Hello Steve, I read your posts with avid interest. They are pretty useful. Adding contrast to a landscape shot was a good read, BUT how practical is it Steve??
    Consider my scenario: I am at the Yellowstone National Park, or Mt. Fuji. Will Color Contrast, Subjective Contrast or Brightness Contrast be at my Beck & Call??
    Landscape Tourism Spots may not provide us this luxury unless we are Jesus and command these conditions to happen / appear.
    As a Tourist, at the most we will get an Hour or two at the spot, as the Group Tour Operator would want us to move on to other tour sites.
    Subjective Contrast may be possible if there are say lots of greenery against a stark mountain or a valley drop. Or deep blue skies with fluffy clouds.

    • Hi Bipin – Good point! You won’t always have the time and/or preparation to capture strong contrast in an image. But, even if you get to a spot outside the “golden hours” or you have to photograph quickly, I think you can still look for strong contrast. For example, that black and white image I have in this post was shot at mid-day. The color version is pretty boring with very little contrast, but I photographed the scene with the intention of converting it to black and white to create more contrast. I also didn’t have much prep time for that shot. I took it on a casual hike. So, I think maybe I should’ve mentioned it’s also about just being able to “recognize” contrast in a scene–because I think that more readily applies to acting quickly :)

  3. Bob Young says:

    There are other contrasts that I have thought of:
    Natural vs man-made is a common one (think cabin in the woods or even rusting car or equipment in a field).
    Living vs dead (think plants on/in/around a rotting log).
    And while it is hard to represent movement, there is moving vs still (capturing a waterfall or stream or surf or even perhaps panning on animals).

    You have a good site and I am learning a lot. Thank you for the insights.

    Bob Young

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