Contrast

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by mporter012, May 4, 2013.

  1. mporter012

    mporter012 Subscriber

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    Hello!

    I'm having a bit of a difficult time in the moment imagining whether a photo is going to be of high contrast or low contrast, and i'm ending up with a combination of both on roll film (35mm) and it's causing some development problems, i think. Does anyone have a recommendation for teaching me to better differentiate what is high/low contrast. For instance, in the winter, a scene with a ton of snow and a tree would be very contrasty right, because the snow will be white and tree will be much, much darker. I'm slightly confused!

    Thanks,

    Mark
     
  2. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    The contrast in a black & white image is determined by the number of intermediate shades of grey between black and white. A picture of a Zebra may be high contrast (fewer intermediate shades), but a picture of an Elephant may be low contrast (lots of intermediate shades). Does this help, or did you mean in relation to processing of photographic materials?
     
  3. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    When thinking about contrast, think of "quality of light". Is the lighting condition more direct or is the sun light obscured and defused with cloud? Also, look at the shadows your subject presents. Is it crisply defined and definite or are edges defused and not so definite?

    If you have both on your roll film, there isn't much you can do about this. I would just develop it normally and do what I can at printing time. Or, if you have extreme conditions, then you could choose to sacrifice some in favor of the other.

    As to snow condition, that's really hard to guess unless I can see your negative (or the scene). Tree may be dark but it could also be illuminated by reflection snow from every direction.
     
  4. mporter012

    mporter012 Subscriber

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    The example about the zebra/elephant is the extent of what i understand. What I think I'm trying to understand is how to more determine in my mind what the outcome will be. I mostly shoot landscapes and architectural pictures and I'm often having a challenging time (particularly in the summer) determining if a photo is going to be contrasty or not.
     
  5. mporter012

    mporter012 Subscriber

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    When thinking about the quality of light, how exactly does this affect contrast?
     
  6. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    I like the Zebra / Elephant story too.

    The Zebra, in full sun, is Normal.

    Now imagine the Zebra - half in shade and half in sun. That is a high contrast.
     
  7. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    Elephant on a sunny day, late afternoon would have more contrast than on a foggy cloudy day. But I suppose there aren't many foggy days on the Serengeti.

    What kind of light meter do you use? There are different approaches to determining contrast depending what you have.

    What kind of metering and development system do you feel like using? There are plenty of choices, and if I know what system you might be interested in, I can use that terminology.
     
  8. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    Cloudy gives a softer, less contrasty image. Direct sun gives a harder, more contrasty image.
     
  9. mporter012

    mporter012 Subscriber

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    I would also venture to guess that clouds are hard to come by in Serengeti! At this point in my photographic explorations, I'm only using an in camera light meter. I understand that when I get a hand held it is going to improve my accuracy.

    If I'm understanding correctly, light is going to affect the contrast of a scene because it will cast harder shadows, creating darker areas (possibly black). Back to the example of snow though, If I am shooting a shooting a scene (which i often do) that has a frozen pond with a light snow cover with a background on a hillside, with an overcast sky, it would still seem to me to be contrasty, due to the amount of shades the separate the white snow and the dark hillside?

    Thanks!
     
  10. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    I can relate to that phrase "photographic explorations"...

    In-camera meters are the "hardest" kind of meter to use. They get the job done, but by hiding details from you, they make learning hard. Not only that but when you want to get the information, you have to work backwards.

    Say you are out on the shore of the frozen pond on a clear sunny day. Hold your hand up and point your camera at your palm and take a reading. Does it show one stop higher than "Sunny 16" (Suppose a 125 speed film, shutter speed 125 - does the camera tell you to use f/22)? It might, or you might be able to move around until it does.

    Now the tough part to do in your head is ... figure out "how much darker" it is in the shady side of the trees on the far bank. When you take the picture, you will want the trees to be more than blank black silhouettes. So you have to figure out how dark that shade is somehow. You might have some trees on this side of the pond you can walk around. They'll probably have the same "light quality".

    And how bright the snow or ice is. Same problem, you can find out how bright that is the same way, by walking around to it.

    Ignore some of the very brightest and very darkest details. Some things are supposed to come out pure black and white.

    You'll probably have more than 7 stops difference between light and dark. So that would be relatively contrasty.
     
  11. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    I always recommend printing with mutligrade filters (or having many boxes of graded paper!) and zeroing in on the contrast needed for each negative by trial and error in the darkroom.
     
  12. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    In terms of recognizing high and low contrast scenes, I normally consider front lit scenes low contrast, cross lit medium, and back lit scenes high contrast.

    I don't normally change development to adjust. I've found that normal film contrast/development works well for me in almost every situation. I simply make adjustments and or burn & dodge when printing instead.
     
  13. illumiquest

    illumiquest Member

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    I'm confused by the initial question. Then again, it's derby day....
     
  14. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    In the context of your specific issue - ie different types of scenes on a single roll of film - I suggest thinking about the contrast of a scene simply as the difference in "brightness" (reflectance) between the important dark areas and the important light areas. It is not always easy to judge visually so it is best evaluated using your meter.
     
  15. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    There are two common meanings for the word "contrast".

    One type of contrast just refers to the difference between the darkest and lightest parts of the scene - the more the difference, the higher the contrast.

    A slight refinement of that description refers only to those parts of the scene where important detail lies - i.e. detailed shadows and detailed highlights.

    Some might refer to this as macro contrast. Others would refer to this as something akin to dynamic range.

    The other type of contrast refers to the difference between adjacent tones of dark and light in the details of the scene. The greater the difference, the more contrasty those details appear.

    Many would refer to this as local contrast or micro contrast.

    The quality of light determines the local contrast in the scene.

    What follows assumes you are using black and white negative film.

    When I am making decisions about exposure and development:

    1) the macro contrast is quite determinative of exposure, in that I need to be sure that there is enough exposure for the shadows, but would prefer that the highlights not be over-exposed too much. Usually, the films I use can handle a lot of that though, so it isn't unusual for me to rely on manipulations in the printing darkroom to deal with that. In relatively less common circumstances, the macro contrast of the scene is very small, so I have to depend on the print darkroom to brighten the highlights;
    2) the micro contrast influences my development choices, because development controls vary the slope or gamma of the exposure and density response. Increasing development has a similar effect as increasing the contrast or "hardness" of the light on the scene. That development increase may also be used to increase the macro contrast, in situations where the dynamic range in the scene warrants it.
     
  16. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    I can go and explain this but it's far easier to go outside yourself and see it.

    Have someone stand in front of you in a bright sunny day. Look at the person's face. Notice how nose casts shadow on his/her face. See how much forehead reflects the light. Also notice, the darkness/shadow the chin makes on his/her neck. Make a mental note of the difference in brightness in these area. Or better yet, take a photograph of this.

    Then do the same in bright but cloudy day. Then do the same in heavily clouded day. Or, do it in shaded area.... not directly lit.

    OR... if you must do this with landscape, pick a subject, pick a camera position and do the same.

    You'll notice, more clouded the sky is, the difference gets smaller and smaller.... Remember, the difference of the light level between bright and dark IS the contrast.
     
  17. Doremus Scudder

    Doremus Scudder Member

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    Maybe another tack...

    The old Kodak recommendation was simply, "If your pictures are consistently too contrasty, reduce development time; if they are consistently too soft, increase development time."

    With roll film it is almost impossible to not have scenes of different contrast on one roll unless you use dedicated backs or camera bodies. The thing you want to achieve is a "standard" developing time that allows you to be able to print all those different-contrast scenes on the grades of paper available to you.

    When I shoot roll film (which is rarely these days) I like to find a developing time that allows me to print a "normal" scene (think hazy sunlight with open shadows) on grade 3. Then I have enough leeway for more and less contrasty scenes.

    You do need to develop a sense of how contrasty the lighting is (soft vs. hard as mentioned above) and where to expose, but that's pretty basic. I recommend to in-camera meter users to use the meter's reading for all cases except when the subject is contrasty. In that case, the meter has a tendency to underexpose the shadows, so open up a stop (or use the +1 stop exposure compensation) for contrasty scenes.

    Do that and find a good standard developing time for your style and type of work and you'll be just fine. I'd start with the manufacturer's recommended developing time and then alter that as needed, using "If your pictures are consistently too contrasty, reduce development time; if they are consistently too soft, increase development time" as a guideline.

    Best,

    Doremus
     
  18. mporter012

    mporter012 Subscriber

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    Thanks for all the helpful info. I will explore these posts further!

    Mark