Gritty and Vibrant: Two of the Most Popular Photographic Styles Today

The following is a guest post by Sean Farmer from Photography Tips

It seems lately that most photography falls into one of two styles: gritty, or vibrant. While there are many variants of these styles, such as a dark grit or retro vibrancy, it seems to come back to these two. I can honestly say that I've not only noticed this in other people's works but in my own as well.

I think these two styles are influenced strongly by other mediums such as video games and movies. Which makes sense, considering both have a basis in photography, but which style is better? To really decide you have to look at both styles and understand what each brings to a photograph.

Gritty and Dark

If you've ever played a first person shooter, or seen a recent action movie, you will notice a similarity between all of them. They all share a very dark and gritty atmosphere and ambiance that is present through out the experience.  This same atmosphere is transmitted into gritty photography.

HDR photo of a staircase in a gritty and textured room.

Gritty HDRs seem to be a popular (cliche?) style in photography

Just like in the games and movies, gritty photography tends to find a focus among dark, brooding shades of brown and grey with strong contrasts and shadows. This styling creates a serious mood, and offers an almost counter culture appeal to a photograph. You tend to see this style commonly in rock band photography.

Rock bands have been on the gritty trend for quite some time.
A vibrant and colorful photo of a woman wearing a winter hat and scarf.
Vibrant photography uses color, rather than contrast, to make the picture "pop."

Vibrant and Colorful

Children's television programming, magazines for women, and many lighthearted movies tend to heavily use a vibrant style, portraying an array of colors in a very frivolous manner.  These color schemes create the sense of “fun” and good feeling, and just like the style's counterpart, vibrant photography follows many of the same principles.

Vibrant photos should not be confused with over saturated photos, as there is a strong difference. Unlike over saturation, vibrant images tend to have an array of colors that work together in an almost harmonious manner. The colors are usually neon, pastel, or just bright standard colors. Recently, the idea of creating “retro” looking photos has made vibrant photos a very common place style.

Woman drinks champagne in a faded old picture that is very colorful and vibrant.
The desaturated midtones in this image make the few colors in it really stand out. This is a very popular style in the photograph industry right now.

Gritty vs. Vibrant

So which style is better? Well the answer, just like many things photography related, is that the style is completely dependent on the photographer and their ability to create a unique composition. I can honestly say I am a “gritty photographer”, since I do prefer the style, but that does not mean I am opposed to the vibrant style, or even that I do not shoot vibrant. Which I actually do.

Practice both styles, and figure out which one you prefer, or which suits your taste more. Do not limit yourself to a single style though, or you are potentially limiting your own ability as a photographer. A good photographer can shoot both styles easily, but a great photographer can fluently discern exactly what style each individual photo should maintain.

Also, just because most photography in its simplest form can be broken down into these two styles, do not ever think that you have to shoot explicitly as the style dictates. These styles are simply guidelines to allow you to better your own photographic style.

Sean Farmer is a photographer and blogger at Photography Tips. Stop by to get a free eBook on the 7 Essential Photography Tips – (get the eBook here).

6 thoughts on “Gritty and Vibrant: Two of the Most Popular Photographic Styles Today”

  1. Very interesting little article. I tend to shoot more of the vibrant, but that is only because I am surrounded by such beauty living over here in Southern Italy. However, some of the ruins and deserted, forgotten places are best shot in a gritty, moddy way. Well written!

  2. I am definitely in the vibrant camp as well. I am often really inspired by the gritty or moody work of others, but it’s the vibrant color that I just can’t stay away from.

  3. I think lighting is a factor too in deciding which approach is better applied to a photo, portraiture for example. I tend to like more the gritty image but I have to consider my lighting setup as it somehow requires two or more lights, the key to a gritty image is the rim light/side light. As to vibrant, its more of color harmonies, it can be ambient lighting, with one light or more. But then again, that’s my approach to help me discern what’s the best treatment for my photos.

    Good article! Thanks for sharing!

  4. That’s very interesting, as a professional wedding photographer in Dallas-Fort Worth, I have to say that I agree, the two styles are what you see the most, but styles change quickly, soon we will get a new photo style in fashion.

    Photographer Igor
    Fort Worth,Texas

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