The Difference Between Black and Dark in Photography

The Difference Between Black and Dark in Photography

Share this:


There is one little thing in photography that has been underestimating a lot of photographers. But really important for me when I realize it. What is the difference between dark and black in photography? It looks the same in photography. But actually really different. So in this article, I will explain this little, but significantly the difference between black and dark in photography.

This has been something I ask ever since I used Post-processing software, understand histogram, and create black and white photography in low exposure style.

You probably this is not really that important. But this will be important to understand. Especially when it comes to post-processing and black and white photography.

The Difference Between Black and Dark in Photography

Definition of Black and Dark

In term itself, we can tell the difference right away:

Black, of the very darkest color, owing to the absence of or complete absorption of light; the opposite of white.

Dark, (of color or object) not reflecting much light; approaching black in shade.

So base on that, we can tell that black is the darkest color with no possibility of light or shade. In another hand, dark means it looks like black but there is still a possibility of light or shade. Basically dark is close to black, but not close enough to be called black.

In terms, it is easy to tell the difference between black and dark. But visually, it is hard and even next to impossible.

Black and Dark in Photography

Check the image below, If you look closely you can tell that there is a difference on left and right. One of them is black and the other is dark.

Tell me which one is dark and which one is black? Left or Right?

If you think the left one is black and the right one is dark, you are correct. This one is quite easy because you can actually see the line that separated the image into two-part. It’s another story when we look at a photograph. Check out the photo below and tell me if the pointed part of the photo is black or dark?


The correct answer is dark. The only reason I know is that it is my photo. If it’s someone else, I’m sure I can’t tell the difference.

In photography, it is quite hard to tell the difference between black and dark.

Why Is It Even Matter?

I know what you think the moment you read the title,

“It looks the same, then is it even matter?”

My answer is YES. A definitive yes.

The reason is clearly explained by the definition of black and dark. Take a look at the image below.

As you previously already know, the left is black and the right is dark. Check the image below:

It’s the same image with increase exposure (brighter) using post-processing. As you can see, the left part (black) doesn’t change and the right part got brighter.

In conclusion, changing exposure will affect the dark of an image, but won’t affect the black part of an image. No matter what, you can’t brighten black.

This is applied in photography.

In photography, black is defined as a part of a photo which is lacking brightness and because of that, there is low information or none that can be recorded and seen visually.

Even using great post-processing software, there are low chances that you can see anything that lay behind the black.



What To Do With It?

Understanding this, you can conclude that,

DARK is OK, but Black is a No-No

Try to avoid black in your photo no matter what. So how to do it?

There is two way. First, through processing steps, understand histogram. Second through post-processing.


A histogram is a graphical representation of the pixels exposed in your image. The left side represents shadow/black; the Right side represents highlights/white, and the middle part represents mid-tones/grey.

I’m not gonna explain the entire thing about the histogram, just the part that really matters for this article.

Every photo has a histogram. Check one of your photo’s histograms and see the left side that represents shadow/black. If the histogram is shifted to the left, that means your photo is probably too dark or even black.

This histogram is seen with Adobe Lightroom. Take a look at of one my picture’s histograms:

This Histogram is peak mostly on the left side. Indicated the photo is underexpose

As you can see, the histogram only peaks on the left side (looks like a line). This means there is soo little variety of tone and the photo is mostly black. You must avoid taking a photo with this kind of histogram.

One way to tell if your photo has a black is by looking at the histogram’s far left end. If there is a peak (even a little peak) on the far left end of the histogram, that means there is black in your photo. If you check the histogram above, you can see a high peak on the far left end. That means there are many parts of the photo which is black.

Try to take a photo of normal exposure and check the histogram. Try to achieve a photo with a histogram that looks evenly distributed.

The Different Between Black and Dark in Photography
This histogram is distributed throughout the left and the right side. It indicated that the photo is in normal exposure


I like to say if you rely on post-processing to fix the black photo, that means you are desperate.

Check out this raw photo and the photo the exposure is increased in post-processing:

The Different Between Black and Dark in Photography
RAW Photo


After Increase Exposure

The black histogram you saw previously belongs to this photo.

As you can see the majority of the visual information can be seen. The only reason I can do it is that I took this photo in RAW format and used up-to-date post-processing technology.

But seriously. Do you actually want that as your photo? Full of grain, noise, and such.

That’s why I said you are desperate if you rely on post-processing.

The Opposite of Black and Dark

There is the opposite of black and dark. White and bright works the same way as black and dark. The only difference is it is an opposite thing, for the reason that I’m sure you already know.

So it’s the same, avoid white photos.

A Little Fact About My Photography

If you see my photography on this website, you probably assume that my photos have a lot of blacks.

But here is a little fact, there is no black in my entire photography, only dark. Here is the reason:

The Different Between Black and Dark in Photography

This is the histogram of one of my photos (mostly look the same). This histogram only peaking on the left side. But if you look closely at the far end of the left side, there’s nothing there, no peak at all. This indicated there is no black in this photo.

So that is the difference between black and dark in photography. Do you still think this thing is not important? Understandable.

Because this is an advanced photography thing to talk about. If you just like to take a snapshot, this article probably won’t even matter. But if you begin to take serious in photography and post-processing, you may be gonna take this article seriously.

So here is my recommendation. Read it, just understand the title, go take photography more and more, begin questioning stuff, then read this article again.


Leave a Reply