Digital Photograper - - Techniques -

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.

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