Tyler’s Tips Episode 13: Contrast of Ideas


Welcome to Tyler’s tips. Today I’m gonna talk about the contrast of ideas.

So, what do I mean by the contrast of ideas? What I’m talking about is when we put two elements in a photo that wouldn’t normally or obviously go together. That contrast, or that dissonance, can create a really interesting sort of a layer in a photo, or create a really interesting story. I’m gonna talk about this by using some photos to explore it.

Here is the first photo I wanna talk about. We have a huge contrast of color, the saturated red versus the dark grays and blacks. We’ve also got contrast of texture, the smooth red skin of the tomato and the rough, old metal of the tool. But the really college part of this photo, in my opinion, is the contrast of ideas. We’ve really created a dissonance, if you will, between this soft tomato and this rusty tool. We vamped that up even more by creating the tension where that tool is crushing the tomato, right? We’re waiting for it to pop or smush. So, that’s an extra layer, but the core of this image, what makes it work is that contrast of ideas.

I’m gonna show another image from that same series that I did. This one, we have the saw cutting the loaf of bread. We’ve all seen this image a hundred times, right? Like, a partially sliced loaf of bread with a knife or something. The difference here is I used a saw. Just that simple change, that contrast of ideas creates whole story here. It’s funny. I mean, I like to think it’s funny. My goal is to make this series of photos kind of funny. But again, it all comes down to just the contrast of ideas. If I did this with a knife, it’d still be a cool photo, right? It’s contrasty, it’s a cool looking loaf of bread and all that, but with the saw, it takes it to a whole nother level.

So, stepping outside of food photography for a second, here’s another example. This is a photo of Emma, the ballet dancer. Last year we did a big series of photos. We shot together for quite a while, and this actually was kind of an accident. We were doing lighting tests, and Emma came out and was warming up in these clothes before she changed into her wardrobe for the photos that we were planning to take. And as soon as I saw this I was like, “Oh, man. That’s awesome. We gotta keep shooting,” and so we did. We shot a few cool images in this wardrobe, and I think the reason that it works is through powerful contrast of ideas. This is a very traditional ballet form. We’ve all seen this a bunch of times. This is a very typical kind of a lighting scenario that we see with ballet dancing in the studio like this, but what really makes it different is when you see these torn jeans and a sports bra. That’s not typical for a ballet studio shot like this. So, that’s one big contrast of ideas. Normally, we would see a wardrobe that would be either some sort of a performance ballet wardrobe piece, or some kind of a very feminine wardrobe piece, ’cause ballet is such a feminine activity or athletic activity.

Anyways, the second contrast of ideas, I think, that really helps this photo is we also have that backdrop, which is … it basically looks like concrete. It creates this industrial energy, which is a big contrast of ideas with ballet, not something we typically see. So, those contrasts, or those things that are a little bit dissonant, I think they actually go along ways to make this photo much more interesting than it might otherwise be.

So, there you are, some examples of the contrast of ideas. Next time you’re out shooting, see if you can think of ways to incorporate contrasting ideas or dissonant ideas to make your story more interesting or more compelling for the viewer. I hope this was helpful. As always, thank you for your time, and if you have any ideas or questions that you’d like me to address, just leave a comment below or shoot me an email, and I’ll work it into a future episode. Until next time.