Creating Conflict in Photography

At the base of a good photograph, a little war occurs – a contrast of duel elements that catch our attention. This may be seen in different ways. Creating conflict in photography is an important skill to improve your photos to become more than a snapshot.

What Will I Learn in This Guide?

  • What is Conflict in Photography?
  • How to Use Colour Conflict
  • Creating Conflict in Shapes
  • Using Texture Conflict
  • Why You Should Look for Conflict

What is Conflict in Photography?

Keeping it short, conflict is the clash of two (or more – but in photography, it’s best to keep it simple) elements that oppose the values of its opposite. Creating conflicts are everywhere in life, and with this guide, you’ll see it on a more basic level.

Contrast, as some photographers refer to it as, sets a story for a photograph that causes tension and dynamics.

In the same way as a good movie or book has a good guy and villain, interesting photographs require a small war within the frame of the camera.

creating conflict in photography image 1
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The best type of conflict is a naturally occurring one, but it’s fine to stage it too if you’re learning. It causes your audience to pick a side if the conflict is clearly described. Good contrast can stop someone in their tracks and makes them engage more readily.

Let’s have a look at 3 different ways that you can bring this type of tension into a photo.

How to Use Colour Conflict

First off you need your colour wheel as this is the answer to the title of this section. All primary, secondary and tertiary colours have an opposite which is called a complementary colour.

Here are a few:

Red                Green

Orange                   Blue

Yellow                  Purple

If you are creating conflict in photos with bold colours, then look at using the complementary ones. Imagine if you’re photographing a red rose, looking for green tones to surround it (this is really easy in nature).

Knowing your complementary colours will help you choose the right tones for portrait photographs. Say you have a blue bed sheet you want to use as your background, then what colour should your subject wear? That’s right – Orange!

It’s possible to slightly deviate from this rule (only a little though) and make those complementing tones a little brighter or darker. So instead of wearing orange, your subject could be in yellow – the colour next to orange. It’s a close neighbour.

creating conflict in photography red and green in outdoors
creating conflict in photography orange and blue in urban landscapes

Creating Conflicts in Shapes

There are two ways to look at creating conflict in photography through shapes – either in form or size. Let’s break it down again.


Shapes can either be hard-edged (squares, triangles, rectangles etc) or soft-edged (circles, ovals). Posing two objects with clear, opposing shapes next to each other is a great example of conflict.


Think big against little, wide against narrow, long against short.

All these contrasts in size are interesting to photograph and easily found, now you know what to look for.

Using Texture Conflict

By now you’ll have an understanding where we’re going with creating conflict, but still, let’s have a closer look.

If you’ve not stepped into a haberdashery in a while you may not know of the range of materials and textures that you can use for contrasting elements.

Look for hard and soft textures; soft satins and dense woollens work really well against each other.

But take this same thinking outdoors and look where calm puddles of water sit on hard rocks, or snow has fallen on rough branches.


It’s such a simple thought process when shooting, but it makes a big difference to your final photos. You may already have that creative eye engaged, and you look at objects in terms of colour, shape or texture – which is fantastic.

But if not, hopefully this guide has helped you see the basic elements needed to take your photography from snapshots to artwork.

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