Silhouettes are a special kind of high contrast photography but we dealt with that in a previous assignment. In this assignment you'll be looking for opportunities to photograph subjects which contrast markedly from their backgrounds. In this case the subject detail is included rather than acting as a mask for a correctly exposed background.
Much like images in silhouette, high contrast photography adds a graphic element to images, lending them power and immediacy. When conditions are right, a high contrast approach can clean up a messy or distracting background, making for a more effective photograph. As in the silhouette assignment, this is an exercise in controlling light: too much light and you have a silhouette; not enough and the image may lose its drama.
When the background is ultra-dark or ultra-bright you'll want to use your spot meter to set the exposure based on the light falling on your main subject. This is opposite to what we did when making silhouettes. If you'll remember, in that case we metered off the bright background, causing the subject to appear dark and flat.
Let's look at some examples...
Backlighting brings this pussycat alive against the deep dark shadows of the yard and porch. Note how rim lighting delineates the picket fence.
Winter brings dark shadows that can be used effectively as a contrasting backdrop to just about any subject. In this case icicles were forming on branches overhanging a fountain. From other angles the shot was dull but when placed against the shadows of St. Paul's Hospital, the scene came alive, lit from within as the backlight passed through the ice.
This scene of a rice granny clambering up stepped paddies resides on the threshold of silhouette, yet enough light reflects on the main subjects to give them form. Taken in northern Kyoto Prefecture.
Much of this scene plunges into silhouette yet the high sun of the summer adds a shimmer to the squabbling cormorants and parts of the pilings. Taken at Iona Regional Park in Richmond, BC.
All photographs were taken by Brian Grover.