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Contre-jour

Contre-jour illustration

Studying round art and graphic design in the VIth form at school, I remember a discussion about “contre-jour” pictures, which made strong use of lighting. For some reason we never got round to producing any work based on this but, years later, I have finally found an opportunity to use the idea as the current assignment on the Digital Photography School forums.

This is the description I gave along with an illustrative image from my trip to Galicia in March this year:

Contre-jour is a french term meaning “against the light”. Take a photo that exploits lighting and plays with under and over-exposed areas to dramatic effect – in other words, the opposite of HDR approaches, which try to compress the range of contrast.

My image has all of that. The framing creates drama, with the skewed angle and the distortion produced by a wide-angle lens. The eye can follow up the stairs and through the passage to the area beyond (located roughly according the “rule of thirds”, a strong positioning theme). Evenly lit, I think the result would be mundane but the combination of the foreground (moderately lit but with a natural vignette), the dark passage way and the overexposed area beyond (picking out the silhouetted figures) it achieves much more presence.

For some reason though, many people seem to be struggling with this task. I think it is partly to do with it not being a familiar term. Many people have turned to the article on Wikipedia but I think that falls short, explaining it as shooting towards the light and leading to people producing shots with silhouettes and lens flare.

I think a better description is given at answers.com, which only falls short by not being illustrated at all.

Despite the confusion we are getting some brilliant submissions. The site moderators will have a secret vote next week and choose some of the best of these in the weekly round-up on the DPS blog.

I am not disheartened by the fact that many people are struggling with my choice of assignment. I think the amount of discussion around what it means and how to approach it is wonderful. Even confessed confusion is a sign of thinking, thinking leads to learning and, if many people learn this week, then everybody wins.

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