WORK WITH EXPOSURE
Discover how altering global and local brightness can vastly change the appearance of an image
Digital photography has made exposure management easier than ever, aided largely by the efficiency of modern sensors and image-processing engines, which are capable of capturing detail in tones many EV stops apart. However, it is not always to an image’s benefit to aim to capture every possible detail. While a uniform histogram would indicate a technically accurate exposure, this may not be able to convey the atmosphere of the scene. For example, a lack of truly dark shadows means there is very little ‘weight’ to the image, which appears washed out as a result. Similarly, there are occasions where exposing the highlights with the single aim of avoiding all clipping can result in a dulled image, lacking in pure whites. In these cases, slight overexposure can add a bright, lively feel which adds appeal to the composition. When looking to develop a unique editing approach, it is useful to consider how you would like to use brightness to control where the viewer looks within the frame. Differential brightness has a strong impact on the direction the eye travels across the composition and in turn sets the overall tone for the image.
When observing the online portfolios of photographers, it is often clear whether they favour a bias of brighter or darker tones. The former situation produces high-key images, which are popular for lifestyle and advertising photography. Try pushing the exposure slider in your RAW editing software to the right, to brighten the overall frame, then work with the Highlights or Curve controls to selectively clip the brightest areas. Inversely, pull the Blacks slider further to the left, to introduce some dark base tones, lower the exposure and brighten the upper highlights, to increase contrast. This creates a moody atmosphere which can produce an effect similar to shooting at night.
ORIGINAL IMAGE Here’s the photo straight out of camera. My ‘go-to’ street photography lens is a 35mm 1.4. Prime lenses are great for street photography as they simplify the process and make you compose with your feet and get close. I usually slightly underexpose my images and shoot wide open at f1.4.
THE MAGIC OF LIGHT The most important part of photography is light. I increase the exposure, shadows and whites, while reducing the highlights and blacks. The most powerful tool is the Point Curve. This allows you to control the light and darks to create atmosphere and it’s a vital part when creating film simulations.
COLOURFUL CHARACTERS Depending on the colours in the photo I adjust the hue, saturation and luminance of each colour individually in order to enhance key colours and reduce distracting ones. This is another key part of creating a unique visual style and mood.
THE RIGHT EFFECT I make a few final tweaks to slightly increase the clarity and add a discrete vignette, to draw the eye to the subject. On occasion I’ll also play with split tones. Most commonly I will set highlights at 60 and shadows at 210, with a very slight saturation on either or both.