Hey everyone -- Mary’s husband Dave here. Anna, Lisa, and Mary have been taking a little hiatus amid the busyness of summer, (and some small life changes like, you know, getting married or moving across the country -- no big deal). Mary's posts will return next week. In the meantime, I thought I would share some thoughts from one of my most recent creative exploits: photography.
A few months back, Mary let me fit a new camera into our budget, my first DSLR. It has opened up my world to the wonders of good photography and photo-editing, and is my new favorite creative hobby. Photo-editing, in particular, is a lot of fun because it allows you to breathe life back into pictures that seemed to die somewhere between the shutter button and the computer screen.
One of the key steps of photo-editing is adding contrast. What is contrast? Contrast = difference. In photo-editing, it’s about the difference between tones and colors in an image. A photo with higher contrast will have lighter light areas, darker dark areas, and stronger colors, which can make for a more eye-catching and visually interesting picture. The amount of contrast needed depends largely on the scene and the intent of the image. In post-processing work, a little often goes a long way, and too much can be a disaster.
For example, consider this picture I took of Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes State Park:
Unedited, it’s meh. Not the vibrant blue waters I remember seeing in person.
Now here it is again with a little contrast added:
That little adjustment allows the colors and tones to pop, making for a much more appealing image.
Here’s another one of a butterfly I took awhile back, before (left side) and after (right side) increasing contrast:
So if some is good, more is better, right? (#’MURICA!) Well, let’s try turning the contrast all the way up and see what we get:
Ugh! Yuck! What happened?
To put it briefly, turning up the contrast decreased the variety of tones and shades in the picture, making all the dark areas closer to black and the light areas closer to white. In doing this, we effectively lose all the beautiful details and hue variety that made this photo great. All the intricate mid-level tones and colors that bridged the spectrum are gone, and we are left with an ugly and featureless mess.
What struck me the other day is how contrast in photography is similar to how it is with people. Our minds (like our eyes) tend to gravitate towards contrast -- we notice the differences in others quicker than we do the similarities. These differences are what make people (like our photos) so beautiful and interesting. Without any differences at all, everything and everybody would all be a grayish blob of nothing meaningful or true, kind of like the original lake photo with the contrast slider turned all the way down:
Yet the same contrast that helps us understand and appreciate God's world better threatens to distort and destroy our perspective if taken too far. If we see everything in extremes, then we have no eyes for the in-between, the huge spectrum of middle ground that helps us to see others (and ourselves) as beautiful people created in the image of God. In a black-and-white world, there’s no middle ground and no room to relate and understand, leading to a distorted mess.
The more I take photos, the more I realize that this world and the people in it are beautifully complex and different, with endless little details to look for and marvel at. I’m challenged by this thought, because as a Christian I tend towards black-and- white thinking, coloring the world with the limited shades that make up my worldview. But I’ve found I don’t have to compromise my palette of beliefs to enjoy a more colorful world, which is where I often get tripped up. Rather, I just have to turn the contrast down enough in my mind and in my eyes, and I’ll be able to see the shades that others are using.
This concludes my photography and life lesson for the day. :)