NEW monthly #bvs capture challenge - January's theme is chiaroscuro lighting

NEW monthly #bvs capture challenge - January's theme is chiaroscuro lighting

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Welcome to 2022 and our new monthly capture challenge! 

I'm so happy to announce a new regular #bvs capture challenge, open to everyone in the creative community via Instagram, co-hosted by myself (Sophie!) and some of our brand ambassadors – Anna, Suze, Matt or Patrick – plus special guest judges each month.


About the #bvs challenge

This is a monthly styling and photography challenge ran through Instagram, created by Black Velvet Styling and open for all to join in.

For each challenge we will share professional styling and photography tips and ideas that follow a monthly theme. The tips and themes explored should be useful in all still life photography - including food, product and lifestyle content.

We hope to inspire our community and be inspired ourselves – I always find it fascinating how people can interpret things differently and use the same theory in lots of different creative ways!

Each month we will shortlist four finalists and then the community will vote for their winner via Instagram.  The winner will get a £100 BVS gift voucher and the runner up will receive a £25 BVS gift voucher.

Plus all winners from January - November will get the chance to be crowned the 2022 overall winner in December!


So lets kick off our first #bvs challenge!


A lovely low-key image with contrast and vibrancy. Shot by Suze @gourmetglow on the Cookbook vinyl backdrop.


The January 2022 challenge theme is Chiaroscuro and we're thrilled to have Aimee @twiggstudios as our first guest judge helping Anna, Suze and I select the finalists.


How to enter 

  1. Follow all hosts and judges on Instagram - @blackvelvetstyling @anna_janecka @gourmetglow @twiggstudios
  2. Have fun exploring the chiaroscuro technique
  3. Post between 7th - 25th January 2022 using the hashtag #bvschiaroscuro and tagging us @blackvelvetstyling 

For the full rules please go the bottom of this post.


About our theme – chiaroscuro lighting technique


Chiaroscuro translates to light-dark and typically uses strong contrast between light and shade in both photography and art.  It’s well suited to portrait and still life photography where you may want to emphasise form by allowing deep shadows and using only one light source the chiaroscuro technique is easy for both natural light fans and artificial lighters.  

Encouraging simpler styling in food and product photography – form over fuss - shadows and negative space become key compositional elements where props, layers and texture would normally come into play.  With much of the image being in darkness the light and focus is what will pull the attention to your subject.

Images using this technique feel quite dramatic.  They can seem moody or they could be vibrant depending on how much light and contrast you use, but they are never under exposed – make sure your subject is well-defined.


'Chiaroscuro lighting technique is painterly and elegant, adding an arty and a little bit extravagant touch to a food photography shoot. Like Caravaggio himself, this is a style of photography that is moody and dramatic. 

Dark and moody photography requires a little bit more control and technique, however, for me this technique is way easier. Try it when shooting rich, earthy flavours, chocolate, red wines or rich dishes.' Anna Janecka


Bundt cakes are ideal for this technique with their gorgeous shape and dips for deep shadows.  Shot with the Quay vinyl backdrop as the table surface and Whitby backdrop behind.


Photography tips for chiaroscuro captures 

  • Experiment with large black card or polyboards to fill in the shadows and block reflective light – you’re aiming for smooth, gradual shadows that accentuate form
  • Set up on your tripod to allow a longer exposure and keep your ISO low
  • Play with different focal depths to emphasise shape
  • Use a prime lens between 35mm to 85mm
  • Natural daylight users watch out for blue light later in the day making your image too cool – better to work in good day light and manipulate it to create dark areas
  • Play with the direction and size of the light source and your proximity to it


How changing the direction of the light effects the shadows and form.  Shot by Anna Janecka.


Styling tips for chiaroscuro compositions 

  • Use darker backdrops underneath and behind your subject to set the scene and reduce secondary reflective light
  • Keep the styling simple – think editorial, artsy!
  • Place your subject a good distance from the back and block light from hitting the backdrop behind the set
  • Try experimenting with flames, smoke and steam
  • Play with colour – does it add to the mood or distract?


Editing ideas for chiaroscuro captures 

  • Try using linear masks to empathise the light and dark sides
  • Play with the luminescence of individual colours
  • Try split-toning
  • Don’t push the blacks too much – remember we want a soft, gradual shadow that emphasises shape
  • Subtly paint in shadows on ribbed or scalloped shapes
  • Try a vignette
  • Remove anything distracting in the background with the heal tool – keep it clean and dark


I hope that’s given you some ideas;  I love this technique, it’s like painting with light.  


How to enter 

  1. Follow all hosts and judges on Instagram - @blackvelvetstyling @anna_janecka @gourmetglow @twiggstudios
  2. Have fun exploring the chiaroscuro technique
  3. Post between 7th - 25th January 2022 using the hashtag #bvschiaroscruro and tagging us @blackvelvetstyling

Each entry will be judged on how you’ve used the technique and how you capture the essence of your subject with it.

We look forward to seeing your posts and announcing the four finalists on Instagram soon after the competition closes at midnight on Tuesday the 25th January 2022.

Good luck!


Competition Rules

Entries don’t have to include our backdrops, our monthly capture challenges are about exploring different techniques.

Entries must stay on your feed for the duration of the competition and judging period if you are a finalist.

Four finalists will be selected shortly after close and announced via our Instagram stories.

The winner and runner up will be voted for by the public via our Instagram stories, this will be live for 24hrs.

The winner and runner up will be announced via our Instagram stories soon after close.

We only need your email address to deliver the prize.  We never ask for personal or bank details via email or private messages.

No purchase necessary to enter.

No minimum order necessary on the voucher prizes.  They will be valid for 12 months.

Open worldwide.

All decisions are final.

Not in conjunction or affiliated with Instagram in anyway.


Five backdrop recommendations for chiaroscuro photography 

For this lighting technique you will want dark backdrops that have little variation and texture so that they disappear in the shadows and don't have too many details that could detract from the overall look.


1. Canvas backdrops are brilliant as they absorb so much light giving a very flat effect. With this steely blue canvas backdrop I have kept the props monochrome to allow just the food to pop, sitting in the middle of the shadow that graduates all the way across the image.



2. The Kyoto black slate effect vinyl backdrop is dark with little contracts or variation so it sits in the shadows well. If you're using it as a wall behind try the larger A0 backdrop to get some distance from your set. 


3.  Or if you do want a bit of warmth and variation the Safe deep brown metal effect backdrop gives a lovely fine art effect with soft mottled details. Again the larger A0 is best for moving back behind the set up and you will want to block the light from hitting it with black card or poly boards.


4.  A handcrafted backdrop painted in darker colours with soft - not too deep -textures will also work well in chiaroscuro photography.  Try something like this Hook design in the 120x84cm size - in this image I've broken the rules and added salt as textural highlights in the shadows, naughty! 


5. The Trig grey metal vinyl backdrop is another beautifully soft textured grey that works well in high contrast or very dark images.  I upped the contrast in this image by masking the dishes and bringing the exposure, whites and warmth up slightly while leaving the surface dark and cool.


Good luck, we can't wait to see your creations!

1 comment


great article

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