The local binary pattern (LBP) operator is a very effective texture descriptor that describes images using texture patterns. However, existing LBP operators discard the texture contrast information by definition and, in addition, they are sensitive to noise. This paper presents a local contrast descriptor (LCD) to represent images using texture contrast by measuring how far neighbors are spread out in a given neighborhood. LCD and LBPs can be combined to improve texture description performance. Furthermore, the LCD is extended to the local ternary contrast descriptor (LTCD) to describe textures using both contrast and magnitude features. Experiments on the UIUC texture database show that the LCD and LBP combinations are more accurate than either descriptor alone and LCD is an easy and efficient complement to LBPs. Experiments on the FERET face database and the database in which the probe sets contain added noise show that LCD, especially LTCD, has promising discriminative power and strong robustness against noise.