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Value refers to the amount of contrast between dark and light. With strong value there is maximum contrast, and the result is an emotionally active and dynamic picture. With lesser value (grayed images) there is less contrast and a more passive, static and decorative effect.
Maximum contrast of Value (dark and light) places objects in the
foreground of a picture, while minimum contrast (gray) places objects
in the background.
Dark and Light
Spatially in depth
Of all the Elements, Value is the most important in creating mood.
Movies and television employ value to create the proper
mood for the story they are telling. For a mystery or thriller, strong contrast
and generally dark value is used. For comedy, generally less contrast
and lighter values are used.
The image at right is from the film noir classic, The Asphalt Jungle.
Still from The Asphalt Jungle, directed by John Houston, 1950
The Italian late-Renaissance painter, Carravagio, used Value in a way similar to film noir directors. In the Calling of St. Matthew, high contrast of light and dark are used to dramatize the scene and invoke a moment of startling spiritual intensity.
Carrivagio, The Calling of St. Matthew
Rembrandt is the master artist of Value. He painted "The
Anatomy Lesson" with the light shining on the people in the
painting but originating from outside the painting. This creates
less than maximum contrast.
Rembrant, The Anatomy Lesson
Then, with the "Night Watch,"
Rembrandt used light values for what he wanted the viewer to see, and
kept the other parts of the picture in dark values.
Rembrant, The Night Watch
To create his greatest effects, Rembrandt ignored the usual way
of painting with the light coming from outside the picture, and
painted as if the source of the light was from within objects
themselves. Once he started this mental origin of light, it became
imperative to change the composition to show how the light he
was painting could be used to best advantage. In the "Night
Watch," he created a dramatic effect by the maximum use of
Value, in which the light comes from the figure of a child.
Rembrandt received his most lucrative commissions from the Guilds,
all member of which wanted to appear equally important in the
paintings. In the "Anatomy Lesson," the men are therefore
all painted in approximately equal value. But this is not the
case in the "Night Watch," where only a few of the men
are adequately illuminated.
Gray is the opposite of strong contrast in Value. Gray is used to show distance, and to modify distant naturalistic forms, as many Oriental paintings.
In the Chinese landscape at right, the low-contrast gray effect is used to reduce the depth and make the picture more static, emotionally passive and decorative.
In interior decoration, gray can be used to provide a more spacious feeling, especially when combined with cool colors.
Click and drag the spotlight to increase the Value of different areas of the picture.
Notice that areas that are highlighted (and have stronger Value) automatically draw the eye.
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