Back in the days of film and darkrooms, there were occasions when photographers wanted very high contrast images. We used film with reduced tonal ranges and developed them in ways to increase the contrast. There were special films and processing methods to produce this effect. You can use this effect in any photograph, but, for me, this almost always meant black and white photography. The extreme examples required litho films to eliminate all tonal ranges between complete black and complete white. This isa digitized film image.
Today, the darkroom is your computer. You can create high contrast images much easier than when I started playing with this technique in the darkroom. And, while film changes were permanent, present methods use digitally-altered copies, and your original images can remain as you captured them.
High contrast images have a unique look that I enjoy, but you don't want to overuse them. It works best with images that have distinct, simple compositions. Easily recognizable shapes in front of sky or water work well. Since edges within the image and details are very important to the success of high contrast images, this is not a time to use wide open apertures. Make sure you retain sharp edges throughout the image for best results. These images were created in NikSoftware's Silver Efex Pro. It works with Lightroom, Aperture, and Photoshop.
You can use high contrast to emphasize details and textures in your images. You won't have to worry about the distractions of color if you're working with black and white. In addition, since you're increasing the image's contrast, the usual problems associated with direct sunlight (which reduces tonal ranges) won't impact you as much. The main problem from the direct light will be the harsh shadows, so be careful to avoid those. This image was created with the tools in Lightroom.
If you want to eliminate all the details, you can create an image that is looks like a pen and ink drawing. This was created in Photoshop.
Working with high contrast can create interesting images for your portfolio. The digital darkroom tools help you transform your images to high contrast quickly and without all the chemicals and special films of the past. I'll show you how to create this effect in Lightroom in the next post.