How to Use Chiaroscuro.


This is a beginners diagram of how to shoot inside with Chiaroscuro

The easiest way to define Chiaroscuro is, an effect and treatment of light and shade in photography, drawing and painting. By contrasting light and shadow to change the effect of the way the photograph is created. Chiaroscuro is used to refer to the use of light and shadow, to create the illusion of light.


The camera’s automatic settings are programmed to work with the light meter, to get an even exposure across the frame. Your camera understands light and dark and recommends light exposure. This works great when you have even lighting and want the entire frame illuminated. When we have a situation with a strong light and dark contrast, the automated exposure can be dramatically wrong if there is a small amount of light, compared to dark areas within the frame. The average camera will try to make the dark light.


For an effective chiaroscuro photograph, you need to use Manual or Aperture where you want to control the lighting in front of you. You will need to compensate for your exposure. For the typical chiaroscuro effect, a small amount of light in dark keeps the dark tones very dark. Play around with the exposure to see what works best, for the specific photograph, that you want to create.


Find a place with a point light source; lamp, window – inside a darkroom. Model or still life. Capture multiple photographs from different angles and different exposures. Various intended focal points. Review and see what works. There is no specific location for a chiaroscuro shoot. If the light is controlled in the photograph will be a success. The photographer determines the contrast of light. The sole idea of a chiaroscuro shoot is to create the illusion of light, like my Too Close for Comfort series. It takes the right lighting situation, to create a successful chiaroscuro effect. You need the contrast of light in dark, which requires a light source that drops off fairly quickly, into the darkness.


An interior room with one window, an alley opening into sunlight or a light at night all provide the opportunity for creating dramatic contrast. When you have strong contrast, it will become a focal point of your photograph, whether you intend it or not. Always use that to your advantage, the concept of visual weight, strong light and dark contrast has a strong pull on the viewer’s eye.


The trick with Chiaroscuro is having a very close subject with the light source very close, I use Aperture and controlled the light source in the room, so all I had to do was change the f-stops and control where the light was pointing. In the photo below the light was a computer screen, and there was a wall blocking any other light source coming into that room.


This is a basic colour example of what chiaroscuro is, shot inside a studio.

Tips & Tricks


1) Use one light source.

Chiaroscuro is a technique for making a picture or painting appear to be lit from a single source. A single off-camera speed light or a bright natural light, through a window, could be used as a light source. It's important to shoot perpendicular to the direction of the oncoming light.


2) Position the light directionally and close to the subject.

Having the light enter the frame horizontally in reference to your subject will ensure that the scene's lights and darks are contrasted.



3) Choose an environment which is dark-toned.

Choose a room with dark walls and avoid shooting near mirrors or brightly coloured paint, which will reflect unnecessary light.


4) Monochrome & Chiaroscuro.

Split toning is used to modify the hues and will make your photos become more noticeable as a result. Reduce the vibrance of the polychromatic images and slightly decrease the bright colours that can distract the viewer.


5) Increase the contrast and darken shadows.

Adjust the contrast to bring out the light and dark contrasts. Deepen the shadows to make the blacks richer and deeper, but be careful not to overdo it. Keep features within the image's lights and darks, which means don't over-darken shadows or blow out highlights. A hallmark of well-exposed pictures is the preservation of textures in all parts of the frame.



Artists often use Chiaroscuro to emphasise and illuminate figures, originally it was used in drawings and paintings, and now it is being used in photography and film.