Conflict and Contrast

Conflict is at the heart of all story. For an image to imply a story, it must include conflict.

20070509185359_pwood-30d-070424-0510The easiest and most obvious way to include conflict is to portray actual, physical conflict. A fight is something no one can ignore, whether we enjoy watching it or not.

20070509185511_pwood-30d-070424-0596Another easy method is emotional conflict.

In this image (to the left), you can see that, even if you aren’t familiar with the story of Cabaret, the distant stare of the woman and the last, lingering glance of the man show some sort of strong emotional conflict going on.

Stage plays, by definition, portray plenty of conflict and drama, and the photographic possibilities are endless.


Not all stories (and images showing a story) are about open conflict, though. More often, we try to imply a sense of story by showing contrasts. The visual contrasts of light versus dark, soft versus hard, color versus monochrome. And the conceptual contrasts such as big versus small, mechanical versus natural, expected versus unexpected. All these can imply a sense of story.


In the image to the right is an example of contrasts of textures. Notice the tones throughout the image are very close, but the very smooth rubber play surface of the water contrasts with the sharp, random branches of the tree.





The image to the left is showing several different types of contrast, both visual and conceptual. Light versus dark. Bright colors versus drab browns.

Life versus death.


This close-up of a Roseate Spoonbill shows several type of contrast as well. Beautiful versus ugly. Color versus monochrome. And expected (the soft, beautiful pinks of a bird) versus unexpected (the wrinkled, vulture-like ugliness of his head).





And the last example, the formal, reverent facade of the Alamo versus the frivolous pink hat and teddy bear of a tourist.





Not all images imply (or should imply) a story. But if they do, it makes them vastly more interesting. Understanding the concepts of story, and how it is achieved in an image through conflict and contrast, can help you make stronger images.