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CONTRAST & SHADOWS If you stand in a gallery and survey a range of pictures on the walls, the ones that beg for closer attention are usually those with good balance of light and dark areas.  Pictures composed by beginners often suffer from a lack of areas of contrast and are frequently bland in tones The eye naturally goes to the point in the picture where the Lightest light meets the darkest dark and ideally that point should fall close to one of the Golden Section hot spots. There is a large section elsewhere in the site on composition, so I will not repeat too much here, but rest it to say that the difference between painting a good picture and an excellent one can be merely a question of ensuring that contrasts are strong enough. As a keen photographer, I take many thousands of photographs, and a high proportion will come off the camera as ‘pleasant’ images.  Once looked at in Photo editing software, they can be adjusted to improve the levels within the picture and so many times the addition of a stronger light in the light areas and a stronger dark in the darker ones, makes a vast difference.  The view on the left is just as it was taken by the camera.   The photo on the right was adjusted to ensure enhanced contrast levels.
THIS IS A SMALL BUT VITAL TOPIC. I cannot impress too much, the need for contrast in a picture. Many an artwork can be improved by developing more shadow and more contrast.
Remember that you can’t show light in a picture stronger than the white of the paper, and that is far less powerful than light in the sky in real life. You can’t show the sun successfully, unless it is Dawn, sun in mist, or a sunset - all when the power of the sun is depleted. This gives me a chance to put in a sunset picture !   In order to get the light effect for the sun, the rest of the picture has to be very dark. ( This is a photo, not a painting )
You can only show bright sunlight by showing the strong shadows that result.
It can be very tricky turning a dull day on your reference into a sunny day in your picture, as inventing shadows is not a task for the unskilled.  As one who has done several night scenes into which I have inserted people, I can assure you that working out shadows from multiple light sources is a real headache. On the subject of Shadows. Be careful to make them colder versions of the lit colours alongside, Don’t just add black or grey.  Go for purples, blues and complementary colours to show the lack of light
This page was written some time ago and has been partly superceded by the page on ‘Getting Light into your pictures’ listed earlier in this section. This page is in need of revision and will stay here until the earlier ‘Light’ topic is completed when it will be replaced