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  • Writer's pictureKuldeep Awasthi


Updated: Sep 10, 2020

Chiaroscuro is an Italian artistic term used to describe the dramatic effect of contrasting areas of light and dark in an artwork, particularly paintings. It comes from the combination of the Italian words for "light" and "dark."

Primordially, chiaroscuro originated during the Renaissance as drawing on colored paper, where the artist worked from the paper's base tone toward light using white gouache, and toward dark using ink, bodycolor or watercolor and is often associated with painting or drawing since it's origination. It has evolved with time and widely accepted in the photography world and now often used as a subjective medium to create and convey the strong, bold and appealing contrast between light and dark in a photograph.

Generally, It's used for portraits, still life and boudoir to give a sense of illusion, depth and contrast to stimulate the subjectivity of the photograph but nowadays, we can see the use of

chiaroscuro in street and black & white photography too.


Chiaroscuro use and essentiality is always been important to photography. Since, the renaissance period, the artwork dispersed in many areas and one of them is photography.

Although, We can't say photography is art as whole because it's the combination of science as well but what is not ? Everything, even the art is science. Subjectivity and objectivity of any form complete it as a whole and so does photography but the question here is, Why chiaroscuro is an impactful concept ? Why the composition of light and dark together create an appealing contrast ? Why it stimulate an effective result when properly composed?

Answers for the above questions can be divided in two categories, that's scientifically and philosophically.

Scientifically speaking, chiaroscuro as it is defined is the composition of light and dark which creates an appealing and bold contrast and this composition of dark and light together triggers the subjective mind of an individual and stimulates the neurochemical reactions resulting in emotional paradigm which creates an appealing sensation for a human being while they were viewing the subject.

While, the philosophical answer is the subjective one and can vary from person to person but for the justification it has to return to the scientific point of view. My personal point of view for explaining the answer depends on the concept of Yin and Yang.

Yin and Yang can be thought of as complementary (rather than opposing) forces that interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts.

Good can't exist without Evil, Light without Shadow, Masculine without Feminine, Life without Death, etc. Dependency of one to another shows they are complimentary not the opposites and that is the reason why chiaroscuro is impactful in defining the subjectivity in photography as well as in art."

We humans are very much composed in the same concept of chiaroscuro. Chiaroscuro can also we envisaged in our life. While we our alive, our life is very much composed in the contrast of dark and light and create a subjective sensation which helps to feel the different contents of reality in the same light of our own conception.

Chiaroscuro creates an appeal which triggers our subjective sensations of our life in the terms of light and dark and we envisage the subject as we were relating to it in our life at the current moment of viewing the subject.


Every artwork, every photograph and every subject have their own concept either objective or subjective. Chiaroscuro is used in both, effectively to trigger the emotional paradigm.

Conceptualization of any subject depends on two things, i.e. concept behind the subject or the concept behind the artist's mind or the subjectivity of their work and second is the imagination of viewers mind to deduce the subject as per their emotional paradigm.

An effective chiaroscuro, art or photograph is able to produce a typical and dynamic illusion which tends to maintain the relation between both of them, the viewers imagination and artist's subjective perception which efficaciously produce a dramatize result which is capable of being envisaged by any individual based on their perception of reality.

The dynamic reality and imagination of human mind helps to produce the effective chiaroscuro as well as to understand the subject. Conceptualization of chiaroscuro as a whole produce much more vital and bold result like the best known Caravaggio‘s chiaroscuro style painting, The Matchmaker by Gerard van Honthorst.


To the infinity or forever present in the cycle, chiaroscuro is always been ad-infinitum. it was always present there, way before it was discovered. Chiaroscuro technique development is only the understanding of light and dark in a complete form where they together produce an effective result by bringing the bold and creative depth and contrast to the subject.

Its presence is undeniable because chiaroscuro as I explained is not only the part of art and photography but it is also present somehow in our life and all the things we see around.

All good and evil, light and dark and every positive and negative around us and within us validate it's present since the beginning although nobody knows what the beginning is.

Just like atoms in our body which constitutes us as a whole are trapped in this endless cycle of ad-infinitum, chiaroscuro in the same way is trapped and will be present forever in this cycle. Its Infinite nature defines the veracity of the subject. How ?

Well, again the answer is very subjective but the beauty of ad-infinitum is not a lie after all and that makes it more veracious than any other thing. Our own imagination is ad-infinitum which when view any form of art or photograph developed in chiaroscuro envisage its infinite presence with time and construct bonding with the subject because our mind and its imagination feels the veracity of the subject and view it in our own subjectivity and emotional paradigm.


The concept of chiaroscuro is brought to us with a view to present depth, contrast, boldness and a sense of illusion to art and so does in photography. Today it's a major part of photography and always helps to create a sense of illusion and depth in the photograph.

Even in the landscape, architecture and minimal photography, chiaroscuro is able to produce effective results. Its ad-infinitum nature makes its essentiality more strong and so does the presence of light and dark since the beginning.

"The amount of chiaroscuro an idea harbors is the only index of its profundity "~Emil Cioran
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