Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Chiaroscuro: Sounds like something you might order in a fine Italian restaurant, no? "I'll have the Pasta Chiaroscuro, please."

Italian food aside--Damn I love pasta! Too much, in fact--the word, chiaroscuro is an Italian word. Literally, it means light and dark.

In art, chiaroscuro techniques originated way back when, during the Renaissance.

During the Renaissance, artists began using light and shadow to convey a sense of three-dimensions in otherwise two-dimensional mediums like paintings, drawings, and printmaking.

In photography, chiaroscuro can also be used to create the illusion of depth or three-dimensions. More often, especially in people photography, it's used stylistically to create "drama" in a photo. Classic film noir lighting styles are sometimes used in still photography. Noir-style lighting liberally uses chiaroscuro techniques to convey a message or a feeling.

Chiaroscuro often screams, "Art!" That's one reason many art nude photographers regularly use chiaroscuro lighting techniques to enhance the perceived artistic value of their work.

Chiaroscuro is not confined to black-and-white photography although, admittedly, it often has lots impact when seen in B&W. Still, the same techniques are used in color photography and with great success.

When it comes to glamour photography, many photographers (and clients and customers too) shy away from shadows on their subjects. They love bright, specular, highlights, often on hair and to "edge" the subject's body. But, quite often, the rest of the subject remains evenly and flatly lit. The results "compresses" the subjects, notably their faces. Compressing (or flattening) the features of a model's face can enhance their beauty as perceived by the viewers. Nothing wrong with that. We certainly don't want to take away from the model's beauty, especially in glamour. Also, in fashion and beauty photography as well.

But those shadows, contrasted against the highlights, i.e., chiaroscuro, can often make your photos "sing!" If you're not purposely using shadows along with those glamorous highlights, maybe you should try it out sometime? I'm not saying it's always appropriate to do so. Obtaining good results in doing so, however, can add quite a bit of style-range to your portfolio.

The pretty girl at the top, bathed in shadows, highlights, and mid-tones using a chiaroscuro technique, is Paris... snapped a few years ago in my studio.


EleganceAndChaos said...

A little off topic, but I know you have been working on your instructional video.

Two photographers put together this website to highlight behind the scene videos. One of the first video was a "pretty girl shoot" in a $15,000 per night penthouse suite some nice guys from NYC spotted them. Pretty nice gift if you can get it.

Check out the pretty girl video they produced.

It looks like a great place to publicize your video once it is out.

jimmyd said...


Thanks for the heads-up! I checked it out. Cool stuff. Bookmarked it. I've been in a suite just like that in Vegas-- At Ceasars. Freakin' unbelievable!

EleganceAndChaos said...

It is nice to see how the other half lives. I am in Las Vegas later this month and then on to your neck of the woods to do some shooting. I can't say I ever have had the production budget where I could to spend $15,000 for a location fee for one day of shooting.

That is getting up to the Annie Leibovtiz size of production.

jimmyd said...


Oftentimes, suites like that aren't aren't directly charged. They're "comp" suites reserved for whales. (aka big fish or high rollers)