on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Using Dark Tones to Create Drama and Tension

Creative uses of Chiaroscuro

David Rosen

I fell in love with photography at the age of 13. It has been a lifelong passion ever since. I look to create strong emotional images that tell a story. The advent of digital has been a revelation for me. It enhances creativity and has elevated photography in my view to a more dynamic and innovative art form. I am particularly interested in long exposure and often use it to create fine art landscape images. We live in a complex and cluttered world where visual respite is rare.


Do you want to create drama in your images? Let dark tones dominate. Are you keen to capture your viewers' attention? Let shadows do the heavy lifting. Do you want to inject mystery into your images? Allow swathes of darkly toned negative space to fire-up your viewers’ imagination.

Forgive me for hammering home my point. It is no accident that dominant shadows in an image encourage the viewer to imagine what might be lurking within them. Dark images can elicit a vicarious emotional response, heightening our senses and engaging us to imagine tension, isolation or a sense of danger.

David Rosen - Sunlight in the darkness Iceland

Sunlight in the darkness Iceland

Unconsciously, we are drawn into the narrative of the image. We become totally engaged in the vision of the photographer. The response to black in an image is not restricted to negative emotions. Black has other connotations that can engage us in a positive way. Excitement, mystery, anticipation and intrigue can compel viewers to actively engage with an image.

Unconsciously, we are drawn into the narrative of the image. We become totally engaged in the vision of the photographer.

It is perhaps no accident that film directors such as Ridley Scott have so successfully used darkness to create uniquely compelling dystopian movies such as Blade Runner. Similarly, Don McCullum’s early landscapes of a post-industrial northern England and more latterly his bleak winter landscapes around his home in Somerset, use dark tones and shadows to create a powerful sense of drama and tension.

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