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So what is contrast? Contrast is the state of being strikingly different from something else, typically something in juxtaposition of close association. If you consider a two-dimensional design in any medium or discipline, be it painting, photography, digital imagery, or another format. Contrast, allows us to see what we see. Let's take a look at contrast as it relates to some of the elements from the periodic table of colors. Value, vibrancy, temperature, texture, shape, and I'll add complementary color to this discussion.
Without contrast, we can't discern one thing from another. Let's start with value. Value, is the relative lightness or darkness of a color. If you see this image, and then look at it with value only, you're seeing the contrast of white against black or a shade of grey. The contrast is visible in this image as a result of light and shadow. What if we change the settings to see color vibrancy? Vibrancy is the relative saturation or intensity of a color.
You can see now, that the contrast is a physical between not only the value but a vibrant color against neutral color. The highest level of contrast is here. And the lowest level is here. If the color palette is shifted to consistently neutral colors, we perceive only the variation in value. Or now a consistently and equally bright field of colors, it's much harder to discern the image.
Except through value variation. If we remove value as well and all the colors are of equal value and intensity, or neutrality, discerning various parts of the image is nearly impossible. There's no contrast of any kind. Creating contrast with more than one element of color as in value, and saturation makes an image vastly more interesting and gives you the creator the image so much more to work with.
Let's see what happens when we play with a variation in texture, temperature. Some like it hot, some like it cold. Shape, both size and contour matter. Complements, notice the contrast in this example of complementary colors is shown from light to shadow. We'll talk more about this in the discussion on color and light. But its effects the images clear.
We can turn up the volume or turn it down, but the vibrant play of the opposite nature of complimentary colors is the least understood, and most potent point of contrast you can use in an image. Understanding all of the ways, that you can show contrasting elements of an image is only a starting point. We need to understand why viewers pay attention to it, and how to control and hold the viewers' attention with contrast.
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