Chiaroscuro - tyneholm
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Assignment S23

Chiaroscuro is an oil painting technique developed during the Renaissance, which uses strong tonal contrasts between light and dark to model three-dimensional_forms. In photography, think of it as simply meaning strong and bold contrasts between light and dark areas in an image. It all adds up to a more mysterious atmosphere as it creates impact and contrast between highlights and shadows in a photo. 

You can use chiaroscuro lighting in your street photography to dramatic effect, bringing real drama and depth to your images. A bright subject against a dark background works well; the whole subject shouldn’t necessarily be bright-subtle quarter-lighting or rim-lighting works perfectly. If possible, you want the light to be directional, ideally hitting your subject horizontally rather than vertically (early morning or late afternoon sunlight is great for this). This will ensure you create the required contrast between the light and dark areas of the scene. The shadows should be dark and the highlights need to retain plenty of information. Deliberate underexposure is a good way to help achieve this effect-somewhere between two and three stops under works well, depending on how much contrast you’re looking to create. 

For this assignment, create two sets of four images; one set in color and one set in black and white. Aim for a common theme across both sets, but consider how you might need to change your approach and camera settings (and processing) for each. 

View the images


  • The effect can be stunning in color but also works well in black and white.
  • When editing a black-and-white image, try using split toning and adjust the hues. If you’re using color, decrease the vibrance slightly to mute bright colors that might distract the viewer. 
  • In post-production, increase the contrast and darken shadows to bring out the extremes of light and dark. 

Field Notes

  • Look for dark backgrounds and colorful people to make these images “pop:’
  • Your exposure compensation dial is your friend! Your finger should always be on this button, fine tuning the exposure until you get it spot-on.